Traffic fatalities are edging higher in energy-producing regions throughout the Lone Star State, as an unprecedented drilling boom changes driving conditions in many parts of Texas.
In fact, the state’s five biggest oil and gas producers — the Barnett Shale, Eagle Ford Shale, Granite Wash, Haynesville/Bossier Shale, and Permian Basin – saw more than 194,000 highway crashes in 2017.
According to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), those accidents killed 1,614 people and injured 7,422 others, a slight increase over the prior year.
“A booming oil industry means roads are being stressed more,” Gene Powell, TxDOT public information officer for the Odessa District, recently told the Midland Telegraph-Register.
Permian Basin Accounts for 11% of All Texas Traffic Fatalities
Overall, 3,721 people died in motor vehicle crashes across Texas during 2017.
About 11% of the fatalities occurred in the Permian Basin, even though it holds just 2% of the state’s population.
Drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol caused 1/3 of the wrecks, while distracted driving caused another third.
Fatigue and speeding also contributed to many accidents, as did the increasing number of heavy trucks hauling equipment and supplies to and from the booming oilfields.
“Death Highway” Runs Right Through the Permian Basin
In fact, nearly a quarter of the fatal Permian Basin crashes involved 18-wheelers and other big rigs.
Most of the deaths occurred along Route 285, the main thoroughfare for oilfield trucks servicing Permian Basin drilling sites.
Dubbed “Death Highway” by locals, the narrow, two-lane road was never intended to carry heavy traffic. With the oilfields booming, however, 10,000 commercial trucks and other vehicles now travel Route 285 every day.
Due to a severe driver shortage, many of the truck drivers navigating “Death Highway” are young, inexperienced, overworked, and fatigued.
$3.4 Billion for Permian Basin Road Improvements
To combat the problem, TxDOT is focusing its annual “Be Safe. Drive Smart” campaign on the energy-producing regions that cover over half of the state’s 254 counties.
“We’re reminding people that trucks take longer to take off and take wider turns,” Powell said. “We’re also reminding professional drivers — don’t speed and stop completely at red lights and stop signs.”
Additionally, the state recently earmarked $3.4 billion for Permian Basin road improvements over the next decade.
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