Inexperienced Truckers Take to Route 285, as Oilfield Boom Returns to Permian Basin

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Surging fuel prices have brought the Permian Basin oilfields back to life in Texas and New Mexico.

Unfortunately, the resumption of boom times appears to have coincided with a rise in oilfield truck accidents along Route 285 – a road many locals have come to call “Death Highway.”

Route 285 May be One of the Most Dangerous Highways in the Nation

Route 285, which runs through Pecos, Texas, and Carlsbad, New Mexico, may be one of the deadliest stretches of road in the United States.

It serves as a major conduit for the big rigs that haul supplies to and from the oilfields of west Texas.

Truck accident deaths along 285 declined sharply in 2015, when the market for crude oil collapsed.

But fatalities are rising once again as oil prices rebound.

Just last year, 93 people were killed in truck-related crashes along 285, a 43% increase over 2012.

Shortage of Experienced Oilfield Drivers Adds to Hazards Along 285

Individuals willing to drive the oilfield trucks that peruse Route 285 are in high demand and can easily make as much as $120,000 per year.

“Some of them are speeding, some of them are too tired to be driving, but they’re making money,” Midland County, Texas, Sheriff Gary Painter recently told Bloomberg News. “Some of these guys are just trying to make as much money as they can.”

Unfortunately, experienced drivers are increasingly hard to find, forcing oilfields to rely on younger, inexperienced, and often fatigued drivers.

“When you’ve been in the oilfield for ten to 11 days, working 14 hours a day, you just become so tired that you’re not thinking straight,” James “Whiskey” Stroup, 57, a veteran driver and trainer, told Bloomberg. “You’re just brain dead, because you’re living off four to six hours of sleep.”

Poorly Maintained Trucks, Hazardous Road Conditions Contribute to Epidemic of Oilfield Truck Crashes

Many of the trucks operated by these inexperienced drivers aren’t being properly maintained.

“The upkeep on an oilfield truck is a lot more than an on-the-road truck,”  Jeffrey Walker, coordinator of transportation training at New Mexico Junior College, told Bloomberg. “Little things end up turning into big things.”

And the fact that much of 285 is poorly suited to handle large, oversized trucks only adds to the danger.

The Texas Department of Public Safety has lowered the speed limit along some sections of the highway, and even deployed additional troopers to the area, but concedes that more needs to be done.

“Those things take time,” DPS Sergeant Oscar Villarreal told Bloomberg. “We’ve had significant growth in the area” and “the roads don’t have time to keep up.”

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