From Roader's Digest: The SABRE Wiki
|Length:||8.6 miles (13.8 km)|
|Former Number(s):||A9, B848|
|Route outline (key)|
Route: Dalwhinnie - Laggan
The A889 is quite narrow for a primary route. While it's certainly wider than single-track, it isn't quite wide enough for two marked lanes throughout. I would guess it's just over 4 metres wide on average, which should be enough for two cars to pass easily, and wide enough for a car and a truck to pass with care. Some bridges are likely to be narrower, but will have warning signs.
The A889 is also neither straight nor level, and in that respect is just like most of the other older roads through the Highlands. It goes up, down, left and right, always following the line of least resistance across the hillside. If I remember correctly, the road edges have painted white lines, and there are plenty of red/white reflective posts along both sides – so the line is easy to follow.
The road also unfenced for part of the route, with hill sheep and deer wandering unrestricted across the road. Again, this is not unusual for a Highland road. It also now has snow gates - it is often closed quite early presumably because it is considered very low priority because it goes to quite a high level (c. 400 m), has no houses and is only really a short cut.
However, the biggest problem with the A889 road is probably the drivers who use it.
Drivers who have just come off the A9 could have spent two hours or more travelling at high speeds on modern roads, including a lengthy stretch of dual-carriageway up Drumochter just before the A889 turning. Before the speed cameras were introduced, normal cruising speeds on the new A9 were 70+ on the single carriageway and 80+ on the dual carriageway. With speed cameras and congestion, average speeds have come down a little, but some parts are still extremely fast for A-class road.
Switching from brain-numb cruising at speed, to the much more attentive and slower driving style needed for older roads can't just be done in an instant. The 30 mph limit through Dalwhinnie village helps, but it's clearly not enough.
The most dangerous road in the country?
The A889 is also one of the quietest primary routes in the whole country. While the BBC News report from the A537 at the Cat & Fiddle had the reporter apparently cowering from traffic behind a fence, the BBC Scotland chap on the A889 was giving his report standing right in the middle of the narrow road, with no traffic whatsoever to interrupt him.
Motorists, who've been stuck in heavy traffic on the A9, can suddenly find themselves on the A889 with an apparently open road, a speed limit which can easily be broken, but a road with a 'safe speed' which is considerably less than the speed limit.
It's no surprise there are some accidents on the A889, but for the AA to declare it as the most dangerous road in the country on the basis of this single metric (accidents per billion vehicle km) is sheer folly. The EuroRAP website includes warnings that short (<5 km) or lightly used roads (<3000 vpd) could produce fluke results, and the A889 is both very lightly used (300 vpd) and also fairly short (13 km).
A congested two-lane road, like the former A8000 (which was excluded from this study!) could have 100 serious accidents per km of its length for every one on the A889, and would still come out with a better score with the accidents per bvehkm metric. (A quiet stretch of road with one serious accident a year is 'more dangerous' than a busy road with two serious accidents a week? I don't think so!)
Original Author(s): David D Millar
The A889 from Dalwhinnie to Laggan is one of the last remaining stretches of Wade's Military Roads which is still in use today as a primary route. The original road was part of Wade's route between Dalwhinnie and Fort Augustus, over the Corrieyairack Pass (2507ft).
Between Dalwhinnie and Laggan, the road was "improved and maintained" by the Parliamentary Commissioners between 1803 and 1828, with a new road driven west through to Spean Bridge to avoid Corrieyairack – the present A86. (The Corrieyairack road, with its zig-zag climb, remains open for walkers and mountain bikes only.)
While there was probably progressive improvement to the A889 through the 20th century, I'm not aware of significant work done on it beyond steady resurfacing and widening.
When the new A9 was built in the 1970s and early 1980s, the old A9 through Dalwhinnie village was incorporated into the A889. Some of the BBC news reports were done from a T-junction with an AA phone box on the corner, appropriate since it's an AA report on the accident statistics. The stem of the T is the old A9 from Dalwhinnie (now also A889; the junction has now been realigned so that A889 traffic has priority), with the old A9 north to the right (now unclassified) and the original southern end of the A889 on the left.
The A889 number was not allocated in the initial classification of numbers in 1922; the route was given the B848 number. We know that A87x numbers were being allocated in 1927/8, and that the OS mark the A889 by 1932, so narrowing down the change to a year or two either side of 1930.