At first glance the Dhaka-Sylhet highway – the N2 in Bangladesh – doesn't look like a tarmac death-trap, or one of the world's deadliest highways. It doesn't teeter along the side of a mountain or plunge through a ravine with nothing but tumbling rocks and open space below. Instead, the N2 is a fat belt of grey tarmac connecting the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka to the booming city of Sylhet. Seven years ago more than £169m was spent turning this road into one of Bangladesh's newest and fastest transport routes. Most of the money came from the World Bank.
It cuts through towns and busy intersections, slashes through Bangladesh's green fields and boggy marshland, past garment factories and countless small thatched-roof villages. It looks like a perfectly normal strip of motorway, yet shortly after we leave the crash and start back on the road I'm in a state of abject terror, gripping the sides of my seat and pumping my foot up and down on an imaginary brake as vehicles swerve and screech in front of us.
Passenger buses loaded with luggage overtake each other at high speed on blind corners, missing oncoming traffic by inches. The rusting skeletons of smashed-up vehicles litter the side of the road. Open-backed trucks filled with people – tonnes of thundering metal – career down the road at 90km an hour, shaking the windows of our car as they scream past. Amid this, streams of garment workers in brightly coloured saris, children walking home from school and men on wobbling bicycles share the road with these machines. More than 60% of those who die on this road are pedestrians – mostly poor people who can't afford to travel in a car or by bus.
The World Health Organisation believes that more than 20,000 people are killed on Bangladesh's roads every year. Government figures put the N2 death rate at 180 a year – around 10 times higher than the UK's worst road – yet the official statistics are disputed by road safety experts there, who say the real death toll is likely to be at least four times that. If they're right that means at least two people die each day, with tens of thousands more injured.