Fatal Traffic Accidents Surge, as Summer Turns Deadly on Permian Basin Roads

This summer has proven particularly deadly for motorists throughout west Texas, as fatal traffic accidents continue to surge across the Permian Basin.

“The first six months of this year in my 12 counties, we had 74 fatalities,” Gene Powell of the Texas Department of Transportation recently told News9West. “We had 23 in July alone, and we’ve already had at least 16 in August and there’s still a week to go. So, for whatever reason, this summer has been very rough.”

9 Fatal Permian Basin Traffic Accidents in Single Week

From August 18th through August 23rd, there were nine fatal car crashes recorded on the Texas side of the Permian Basin.  Two each occurred in Midland, Ector and Upton Counties, while the remaining occurred in Andrews, Glasscock, and Presidio.

According to a recent report from FreightWaves.com, west Texas has seen 26 deaths and 80 crashes involving oilfield trucks and other commercial vehicles since July 1st.

Heavy traffic – including a significant uptick in truck and 18-wheeler traffic – is an unwelcome consequence of the unprecedented Permian basin oil boom. Unfortunately, the area’s narrow and often deteriorating rural roads are ill-equipped to handle the thousands of vehicles that now traverse west Texas every single day.

Permian Basin Accounts for 11% of Texas Traffic Deaths

“On some of these little two-lane county roads, they’ve become super highways, there are so many semi-trucks,” a veteran oilfield trucker told Freightwaves.com. “Then you have little pick-up trucks trying to get around the semi-trucks, weaving in and out, it gets dangerous.”

Statistics now show that while just 2% of Texas’ population resides in the Permian, the region accounts for 11% of the state’s traffic-related deaths.

The Midland-Odessa area has seen fatal truck and 18-wheeler crashes increase more than 120% in just three years, and now actually leads Texas in deadly commercial vehicle accidents. During the same three-year period, overall traffic fatalities increased by 160%.

Permian Basin Attracts Thousands of New Oilfield Truck Drivers

It certainly doesn’t help that a severe shortage of seasoned oilfield truck drivers has attracted thousands of new – and often inexperienced – truckers to the Permian. Those novice drivers are often working 12-hour-days, six-days-per-week as they chase the six-figure salaries that have become typical in the west Texas oilfields.

In addition to sheer volume, inexperienced truck drivers, and poor roads, distracted driving, the failure to use seatbelts, speeding, and impaired driving have also helped push Permian basin traffic deaths to record levels in recent years.

“Everybody always talks about how it’s the roads fault. But interstate 20 has as many fatal crashes as anything,” Powell said. “And it has a four-lane divided road with a median barrier down the middle. Driver behavior is so key.”

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