BLOUNT COUNTY - The Blount County Sheriff's Office began increasing traffic patrols on the 11 mile stretch of US Route 129 known as "The Dragon" Saturday.
Each year from April through November a grant from the Tennessee Highway Safety Department funds additional officers to patrol the road internationally renown for each of its 318 curves.
"We're not just up there to write tickets. We would like to educate people as far as safety on the dragon before we actually start writing tickets," BCSO Lt. Rick Ailey said. "Most of the people that are killed or severely injured up here are from out of state or out of the country and not used to having this type of roadway."
During the 2016 season, the BCSO wrote 861 tickets on The Dragon. Out of more than 90 crashes, 48 people were seriously injured and three people died, according to BCSO's Dragon Awareness.
The road draws tourists from all the over the world.
"They come here for the road. It's the most fun road in the world," Tail of the Dragon store owner Ronald Johnson said.
Johnson and his wife started selling t-shirts at the Calderwood Dam overlook in 2000. Since then, his business has grown into one of the most prominent stops at Deals Gap.
Given the massive number of sports cars and motorcycles that visit "The Dragon," Johnson says the percentage of vehicles that wreck is remarkably low.
"Most of the wrecks here are in the ditch and they pick them up and ride home. It's not that serious of a wreck most of the time," Johnson said.
However, Johnson has seen "The Dragon" take its toll.
"I've seen several people die on 'The Dragon.' When we first started the business there were two kids that stopped and bought a t-shirt up at the dam overlook and took off. We hear a smash, and we went out and the kid was hurt pretty bad. [The driver] went off the mountain and hit a tree," Johnson said. "I can go through 'The Dragon' now and recall the serious accidents I've seen. Every mile marker. I know who was there and what happened."
The road is out of cell phone service and is at least 45 minutes from a hospital. The time it takes to see a wreck, drive to an area with cell service, and then wait for first responders can be the difference between life and death.
One such instance sticks out in Lt. Ailey's memory.
"There was a crash at Parsons Branch. There's a deep drop off on one of the curves," Lt. Ailey said. "I get there and there's a man laying down under his motorcycle with a severely broken femur, bleeding a lot. While I was laying there talking to him he actually passed away because of the long response time. If he'd been in town they might have been able to save him."
Lt. Ailey says he hopes that by bringing awareness as to why the speed limit is only 30 mph on "The Dragon," drivers will slow down and understand why they need to take the curves a little safer.
Johnson also promotes safety, but also wants to inform people that the road is not dangerous when driven responsibly.
"There are some people that shouldn't be here. They ride to Hooters every Wednesday and that's their experience on a motorcycle. Then they come here and want to go through all the curves," Johnson said. "This is superb entertainment for most of the people that come here, 95 percent of the people that come. There's five percent that act up. That's going to happen anywhere."
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