The Road out of West Texas: Big Rigs and The Perilous Path of Oil

Nov 4, 2020 | Truck Accidents

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2003-2013, the U.S. oil and gas extraction industry experienced outstanding growth. This led to a doubling of its workforce and an increase in the number of drilling rigs by 71 percent.

Despite the eruption of the energy industry in the last two decades, numerous American oil companies went under in the wake of the oil price collapse in 2014. Only one withstood the assault and even thrived–the Permian Basin wedged between Texas and New Mexico. The combination of advancement in technology and aggressive investment transformed the dusty stretches of West Texas into the second most productive oil field in the world. In fact, this area boasts a record four million barrels of oil produced a day!

However, this oil production boom comes at a price. The influx of the workforce pouring into the area determined to secure steady work and financial stability. Combined with the local population in the Midland-Odessa metropolitan area, has caused an increase in motor vehicle accidents.
The countless lives affected by commercial truck accidents, specifically in the rural areas of West Texas, is an epidemic that has not received adequate attention.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that in 2013 nearly 4,000 people were killed in crashes involving 18-wheelers. Texas leads the nation in large truck road fatalities at 536, almost double the number of the next closest state. That’s an increase of 52% from 352 fatalities in 2009.

Is the spike in big rig accidents related to the oil boom in West Texas’s energy-rich lands?

A 2015 report released by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) says yes.
The study supports the notion that the amount of drilling activity in an area, such as the Permian Basin or Eagle Ford Shale, correlates with the number of rural commercial vehicle crashes. When oil production activity increases, the number of reported road accidents involving big rigs increases as well. Conversely, when drilling activity declines, so does the number of road accidents.

Common Causes of Big Rig Accidents

Driver fatigue. According to the Texas Trucking Association, the state is short nearly 50,000 truck drivers and is only expected to increase. With a rapidly retiring workforce, lack of interest from younger generations, stagnant wages, and increasing freight loads, truck drivers are burdened with longer working hours and less time to get from point A to point B. Simply put, drivers cannot keep up with oil production and thus are suffering immense fatigue.

Drug and alcohol use. Legal and illegal drug and alcohol use contributes to nearly 65,000 big rig accidents annually. Inconsistent drug and alcohol testing for CDL drivers operating a commercial vehicle is a significant issue. Furthermore, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that 22% of truck drivers were driving while receiving disability benefits for epilepsy, alcohol addiction, or drug dependence.

Texting and driving. The likelihood of being in a traffic accident is 23.2 times higher for truck drivers who text while driving than those who don’t.

Other common causes:

  • Overweight freight loads
  • Improper vehicle inspection and maintenance
  • Cargo security
  • Poor road conditions and infrastructure, especially in rural West Texas

Road Fatality Prevention Measures

Road accidents involving 18-wheelers are likely to increase as oil production rises in West Texas. While it’s difficult to prevent human errors, there are some measures that can be taken to subdue the number of fatalities on the roads. Some precautions we can take are ensuring that drivers adhere to limited work hours regulations. This rule states that they should not drive more than 11 hours per day or a limit of 60-hour per week. If the demand for new truck drivers is to be met, life on the road must be improved. Thus truck drivers should have shorter work hours and more time to rest and enjoy time with family and friends.

Both truckers and passenger vehicles should practice safe driving.
Thus, both parties should avoid tailgating. Using turn signals when changing lanes and try to minimize lane changing. Trucks are large as such; they have more blind spots; thus, drivers of passenger vehicles should avoid driving staying in this area. Drivers should also use caution in work zones and apply breaks early in inclement weather.

Logistics experts must be mindful of safety measures such as land transit safety policies. Thus, they should conduct routine commercial vehicle inspections and proper freight load management. Doing so would further reduce drivers’ exposure to fatal road hazards.

Get the Justice You Deserve

Road fatalities and injuries involving 18-wheelers are serious realities for both big rig operators and regular vehicle passengers. This is especially true for the treacherous, oil-rich roads of West Texas. Fortunately, there are lawyers who specialize in truck driving accident injury cases and can help you get the justice that you or your family deserves.

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