Oil Boom Leads to Increase in Deadly Permian Basin Trucking Crashes

The Permian Basin is the home of some of Texas’ most productive oil fields. But it is also the home of one of Texas’ most deadly roads. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, only 2% of Texans live in the Permian Basin, however, 11% of all traffic fatalities occurred there in 2016.

For example, in 2015, the number of traffic deaths involving big trucks shrank when oil prices collapsed. However, when crude oil prices surged in 2017, so did the number of big truck crashes in the area. This is because when crude oil rally, the need for more truckers to drive huge 18-wheelers increases. These large trucks can carry anything from water and sand to steel pipes and fuel.

What is the Permian Basin?

The Permian Basin stretches more than 75,000 sq. miles across West Texas and into New Mexico. The Basin is producing so much oil that by 2025 the region is expected to be equal to the production of Saudia Arabia and Russia combined.

In 2019, the region is expected to generate an average of 3.9 million barrels of oil per day. For the last three years, the Basin’s production has transformed the U.S. economy. In fact, the United States is now the world’s leading producer of crude oil. Additionally, because of the amount of oil the region is producing, the nation is no longer reliant on foreign oil.

The region has also experienced a boom in jobs leading to an increase in traffic. As a result, crashes aren’t just up on Route 285, they are up all over the Permian Basin.

Roads in the Permian Basin

The Permian Basin has long been the home of ranchers and farmers. Consequently, many of the roads and highways in the region were designed for farm equipment use. Further, road sizes weren’t designed for the increase in traffic—especially in oversized trucks.

The roads can’t keep up with the significant growth in the area. Different parts of the highway have four lanes, three lanes or two lanes. With the amount of increasing traffic and the fluctuation in lane amounts, truckers and passenger vehicle drivers have to constantly think about merging. Unfortunately, Texas can’t widen roads overnight, which experts believe will reduce crashes in the area.

What is Death Highway?

Route 285 is one of the main roads used to carry supplies to and from the oil fields of West Texas. However, locals have abandoned the highway’s formal name and now simply call it “Death Highway”. This is because, as crude oil continues to surge, crashes continue to surge. In 2017, as many as 93 people were killed in truck accidents—just on the Texas side of the Permian Basin. This marked a 43% increase over crashes in 2012.

Route 285 is in the Midland-Odessa area of West Texas and runs through Pecos, Texas up through Carlsbad, New Mexico. Many consider the highway to be the deadliest in the country.  

How do trucks factor into crashes?

Another problem with the trucking in the area is that the trucks are often overloaded and carrying more weight than the truck is designed for. Further trucks used to carry oil field supplies aren’t always properly maintained. Oil field trucks often require more maintenance than a regular on-the-road truck. When oil companies don’t maintain these trucks, small maintenance issues can turn into larger issues that lead to deadly crashes.

Truckers in the Permian Basin

Truck driver distraction is among the top reasons TxDOT cites for car crash increases in the Permian Basin. At least 15% of truckers involved in crashes admit that they were on Facebook or something similar while operating their vehicle.

Several trucking companies are facing a shortage of drivers. Leading to a younger, more inexperienced pool of drivers. Trainers in the Permian Basin report that the pool of drivers with two to three years or more of oilfield experience has “dwindled to nothing.” This essentially forces companies to substitute formal training for the experience.

Finally, drivers in the Permian Basin are in such high demand that they can earn up to $120,000 a year. Combined with their youth and inexperience, many of these drivers can work 14-hour shifts for several days. Drivers want to make the most amount of money possible. So, they will often speed on the highway to make deadlines. In addition, many are too tired to be behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler.

Permian Basin Statistics

In addition to crashes along U.S. Highway 285, there has been a significant increase in crashes along I-20 and State Highway 302. According to a DPS spokesperson, crashes in the area range from minor to fatal.

In the last two years, crashes in Ector County in 2018 hovered around 5,170—double the number of crashes reported in 2016.

  • Car crash fatalities in the Permian Basin were up 97%
  • Total crashes were up 67%
  • Commercial vehicle crashes were up 160%
  • Commercial vehicle-related fatalities were up 122%

What is Texas Doing to Reduce the Number of Deaths in the Permian Basin?

The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) is working to alleviate the problems along Route 285. For example, speed limits were once as high as 75 miles per hour and have been lowered. In addition, DPS has sent more troopers to monitor the roads. However, because of the number of drivers on the road, there is only so much that the troopers can do.

Further, the size of the road plays a major factor in the number of accidents on the road. TxDOT is looked to spend nearly $1 billion to repair and expand highways in the area.

Get the Legal Help You Need with A Carlson Law Firm Trucking Company Lawyer

Commercial vehicle accidents can lead to far more severe injuries. If you lost a loved one or were severely injured in a Permian Basin trucking crash, contact The Carlson Law Firm for aggressive representation. We have 12 locations across the state and more than 40 attorneys with the experience you need on your team.

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