Study: Over 1,600 Traffic Fatalities In Major Texas Oil Regions in a Single Year
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) recently released a study on 2017 crash statistics in Texas’s five primary oil- and gas-producing regions: the year tallied over 194,000 crashes with 7,422 serious injuries and 1,614 deaths. The personal injury lawyers at Wyatt Law Firm have dealt with many automobile and commercial trucking accident cases from this region.
Not only do elevated accident numbers in this region stem from West Texas oilfield traffic, but vehicles traveling to and from this region cause serious accidents in other parts of the state.
Causes of Accidents in the Oil Patch
These parts of the state see a much higher accident risk because:
- The roads are clogged with traffic that they were not built to handle
- There are more trucks per capita on these roads than in any other part of Texas (the traffic on these roads are disproportionately trucks)
- The road conditions are poor because of all the wear and tear on these highways.
- These are rural roads that lack many safety features and precautions that you will find in the urban centers.
This profitable area of West Texas, called the Permian Basin, contains rich deposits of petroleum, natural gas, and potassium. Business surged tremendously within the past few years.
The largest counties in the 17 county Permian Basin are:
These counties all have elevated accident rates, with serious injury more likely.
The Permian Basin Is Booming, but at a Cost
In 2021, 44 percent of the country’s oil production came from the Permian Basin. At any given time, more than 500 rigs operate in the Permian Basin. The rise of shale oil drilling has only made this area more crowded, as it is an equipment-intensive type of oil drilling. Traffic ebbs and flows depending on the overall demand for oil.
Nevertheless, the economic boom has also plagued the region with deadly consequences, especially on the roads.
Oil companies bring many benefits to the Texas economy, including well-paying jobs. However, the industry also causes hazardous collateral consequences, such as raising the danger to other drivers on the state’s roads. This danger falls on the residents of the area and those passing through, who do not always share in the other benefits of the oil industry. They are the ones who must contend with dangerous trucks and careless drivers.
There Are Far More Car Accidents Per Capita
What makes the Permian Basin, Midland, Odessa, and Eagle Ford Shale regions so abnormal is how disproportional their traffic accident statistics are to their relative populations. Counties in the Permian Basin, for example, have some of the highest fatal DWI statistics per capita in Texas, resembling those of far larger cities like Houston and San Antonio.
The reason is that many accidents in the region involve drivers who are not local. They are in the area for business or are transporting cargo through the region. The oil industry requires a lot of logistical support, much of which large trucks provide. These drivers may be in unfamiliar territory and not know where they are going.
At the hub of all the commotion, cities Odessa and Midland have experienced massive increases in traffic and traffic-related deaths. Primary veins of the oil industry I-20 and U.S. 285 bear crash statistics that attract national attention, and locals have even branded U.S. 285 as “Death Highway.”
Deaths on these roads wax and wane in sync with oil prices, but the recent boom has fueled the steady energy-related expansion.
There is talk of widening I-20 and taking other safety-related measures, but for now, this road remains a veritable death trap. Some surveys show that more than one in every ten Texas accident fatality happens in the Permian Basin, even though the population in these areas is very sparse.
The Rate of Car Accidents Increases with Oil Production
When oil production is responding to surging demand and prices, there is more truck traffic in the state. Traffic deaths in the area dropped in 2020 when much oil production went offline because of the pandemic.
Now that oil prices are nearing a seven-year high, you can expect serious traffic accidents in the Texas oil patch will spike to new highs, as oil companies will try to bring new production on board to maximize their profits. Residents have no control over the amount of dangerous traffic on their roads.
The Dangers of Texas Rural Roads
In general, rural roads tend to be far more dangerous than you think. Drivers take far more chances when they think that there is less traffic around. In addition, they may not be familiar with the roadway and its conditions. Rural roads are more conducive to speeding despite speed limits. There is much more of a problem with reckless driving on these roads.
Rural roads will be even more dangerous when they have more than their share of truck traffic, as is the case in the oil regions of Texas. Trucks and cars often try to pass each other. When road conditions are poor and there is limited visibility, there are far more accidents. Given the higher speeds on rural roads, more severe accidents may happen occur.
Surprisingly, more than half of our nation’s traffic fatalities happen on rural roads. The fatality rate on rural roads per 100,000 miles traveled is more than double that in cities despite a growing shift toward urbanization. Texas ranks in the upper third in the country in the traffic fatality rate on its rural roads.
How the Truck Driver Shortage Makes Things Worse
Currently, there is a truck driver shortage across America. This hits the oil industry particularly hard because it relies on tankers to take the finished product from refineries and heavy trucks to supply the oil patch.
Tankers and other trucks that transport chemicals are even more difficult to drive, and they require a special license. Trucking companies and other businesses that need truck drivers are struggling to fill job openings, and the problem has gotten far worse during the pandemic. The truck driving workforce is getting older, and many experienced drivers retired. The replacements for veteran truck drivers are often operators who do not know how to handle the challenging conditions found in Texas.
As prosperity entices inexperienced drivers to fill the labor shortage, the West Texas oilfield traffic increases, and 18-wheeler and commercial vehicle accidents have skyrocketed alongside the proliferation of new drilling sites.
These drivers understand that time is money, and the lucrative business prompts drivers to speed, drive while fatigued, and drive aggressively. Local law enforcement agencies have also expressed concerns over increased incidents of commercial trucker intoxication.
Truck Drivers Are Under a Great Deal of Time Pressure
Employers put truckers who supply and take finished products away from the oil patch under enormous pressure. Current shortages require that deliveries reach their destination quickly. Time matters in the oil drilling and production industry. When a rig has a technical issue, the drillers need parts immediately to keep production going. Finished products cannot sit because of high storage costs.
Drivers may end up starting late because labor and supply crunches keep them from getting out on the road when they need to so they can reach their destinations on time. They may try to make up time by speeding on the roadway. Truck drivers may speed because of federal time limits on their shifts.
The Dangers of Truck Driver Speeding
Speeding truck drivers pose the following dangers to other drivers:
- Since trucks are so large and weigh 80,000 pounds fully loaded, they take far longer to stop than other vehicles. Speeding costs the driver valuable time that they might have to bring the vehicle to a safe and complete stop.
- Speeding trucks are far more likely to experience rollover accidents because the driver can make an error in steering.
- They are far more likely to lose control of the vehicle.
- Drivers are less likely to respond to changing roadway conditions, whether it is due to weather or traffic.
Trucks Have a High Rollover Risk
One major risk of the trucks that travel this oil patch is a rollover accident. This danger increases with tanker trucks. Truck rollovers can happen when a driver oversteers or the cargo shifts inside the truck. When trucks drive fast over roadways in bad condition, it increases the danger of a truck rollover.
Tankers present a high rollover risk because liquid cargo can slosh around inside the truck, suddenly shifting the center of gravity. This danger is even higher when the tanker is not fully loaded. Tanker rollover accidents are incredibly dangerous because the truck carries highly volatile and flammable substances. Rollovers can cause explosions or the truck to catch fire.
Poor commercial driving in combination with unprepared, underserviced infrastructure and the swelling driver population has turned these roads-less-traveled into perilous thoroughfares.
Roads in the Oil Patch Are in Terrible Condition
One of the problems that the oil industry causes in Texas is dilapidated roads. Heavy trucks regularly traveling over the same roads over and over again will break down the concrete and asphalt. The state government does not invest the money necessary to keep these roads in good repair, leading to dangerous highways and thoroughfares in oil-producing regions.
In the words of the Texas Department of Transportation, “heavy energy sector traffic has affected Texas highways and bridges.”
Challenging road conditions make it harder for everyone to drive in these regions. First, truck drivers do not always take the necessary care to handle roads in poor condition. Second, the government does not always fix the roads promptly.
The Dangers of Poor Roadway Conditions in Rural Areas
Part of the problem is that roads in the oil-producing areas are rural highways, and no one intended these roads to carry the traffic they see now. The government does not make the investments necessary to provide the infrastructure to keep up with the soaring truck traffic in the area.
Part of the problem is that the state profits wildly off of the oil industry, and it leaves counties to pay the bills. Road repair for rural roads comes out of the county budgets, and they claim that they are not receiving the necessary money from the state.
The heavy equipment that travels over the road can cause:
- Cracked asphalt
- Splintering shoulders
The Texas Legislature continues to talk about the problem, but they have not made any significant moves to repair roads that incurred heavy damage from equipment that they should not carry.
Suing the Government for Poor Road Conditions
You may even sue the government if poor road conditions were the cause of your accident. The government has a legal obligation to maintain roads in reasonably safe conditions. Although they are not legally responsible for every single crack and pothole on the highway, agencies can face lawsuits if they delay maintenance or repair of very poor conditions and the worn roadway causes of your accident. You need a lawyer who knows the different rules for suing a government.
Other Defendants in Your Motor Vehicle Accident
If you suffered injuries in an accident with a truck driver or any other motorist in the Texas oil patch or across the state, you might deserve financial compensation. First, you must prove that someone else was responsible for your injuries.
This may include:
- Another driver (including a truck driver)
- The driver’s employer
- The truck’s manufacturer
- The cargo loader
- The government responsible for maintaining the road
Suing a Company for Your Accident Injuries
Your car accident damages can result in a large settlement check, depending on the extent of your injuries. If you sustained injuries in a truck accident, you can file a lawsuit against the truck driver’s employer. Tanker and other heavy truck owners are quite shortsighted to not carry large insurance policies to protect them when their drivers injure other people. The coverage limits on these policies can be very high. If they are not enough to cover your injuries, you can go after the trucking company’s assets and accounts.
The flip side is that these accidents can be very complex. Your attorney will need to perform an extensive investigation to determine the cause of the accident and gather the evidence that you need to prove liability.
Then, your lawyer will need comprehensive negotiations to reach a point where you can settle your accident claim. When claims have a higher dollar value, it may take longer to settle them because there is more room for a difference in opinion between you and the insurance company. These are usually the more difficult cases because you will need extensive proof of your damages and how you reach your figures in settlement negotiations.
The automobile and trucking accident lawyers at Wyatt Law Firm understand the potentially life-threatening ramifications of such deadly combinations.
Although TxDOT and other government agencies initiated highway construction projects and safe driving campaigns to alleviate some of these problems, the booming oil market and demand for commercial truck drivers will continue to encourage dangerous driving from interested parties. We anticipate that this problem will only worsen in the coming years, as high oil prices drive more oil production.
If you or a loved one have been affected by an 18-wheeler or commercial automobile accident in the Permian Basin, in the Odessa-Midland area, or the Eagle Ford Shale region, call Wyatt Law Firm at (210) 340-5550 for a free consultation.
Our personal injury lawyers seek maximum compensation for people throughout Texas and the nation, including San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Austin, Laredo, and Corpus Christi. We will fight for you. You do not need to write us any check upfront for our services, nor will we send you bills during your case. You pay us nothing unless we recover damages for you.