Loving County, Texas is home to 134 people. They share the road with over 10,000 vehicles each day on US Route 285.
This highway serves as the main traffic artery for Loving County and jets toward one of the richest oilfields in America. It runs through the heart of West Texas, making it ideal for transportation to and from the booming Permian Basin.
However, US 285 was constructed in 1926, well before the region was a hotspot for the nation’s energy production. The small highway was initially intended to handle light rural traffic, not the swarms of cars and industrial trucks it sees today. This increase in traffic has caused such an alarming spike in accidents that residents now refer US 285 as “Death Highway.”
Fatal Traffic Accidents Near the Permian Basin
Route 285 was the location for the deaths of 93 people in 2017. According to Dallas News, this is an increase of 43 percent from numbers reported in 2012. The news outlet notes that accidents in the area dropped in 2015 with the price of crude oil. Then, when the market saw a sudden surge in 2016, the accidents sharply increased with it. This correlation suggests, with production in the Permian Basin expected to increase, additional deadly accidents for US 285 are sure to come. Experts attribute accidents to roads that were not designed to handle traffic created by the area’s oil boom. TxDOT agrees with this assessment. The department has diverted $188 million in funds towards enhancing the ability of US 285 to handle Permian Basin traffic.
Driver experience is contributing to accidents. With such high demand, companies are struggling to find enough experienced drivers to transport goods, so less experienced drivers are given the responsibility of carrying heavy loads to and from drilling sites. One transportation trainer told Dallas News that companies are attempting to substitute experience solely with training—a methodology producing deadly consequences for workers and the drivers they share the road with.
Permian Basin Traffic and Accidents So Far In 2018
Data suggests that traffic accidents have already trended upward in 2018. Energent Group reported traffic accidents had already increased 17 percent in April of 2018 when compared to the previous year.
Back in Loving County, emergency responders and law enforcement are struggling to keep up with the demands of the Permian Basin traffic surge. Increased traffic accidents and oilfield fires have stretched local fire departments to their limits. In some cases, it takes first responders over an hour to respond to a crash—multiple accidents over a large area have made it close to impossible for the county’s resources to respond adequately. If multiple accidents occur at once, responders are simply unable to respond quickly.
Just across the border in Eddy County, New Mexico is also experiencing trouble. The county covers nearly 5,000 square miles and has a total of 4 paid emergency responders. In response to the increase in Permian Basin traffic and accidents, 217 volunteers in Eddy County are assisting officials. While the economic benefits are welcomed to the area, locals and workers are paying for prosperity with their lives.
What Is Being Done to Improve Safety
Government officials have taken multiple approaches to improve safety. Notably, a stretch of US 285 has been designated as a safety corridor—a status that doubles traffic violation fines. Additionally, repairs are being made to roads with dangerous sinkholes that have developed since the fracking boom. Companies are also opening more pipelines between 2019 and 2020 to transport more oil faster. This development should relieve some of the traffic on US 285, but may also increase the already gigantic appetite that oil companies have for high production rates. Safety experts are hoping that the former will happen for the sake of residents and workers.
However, safety is not limited to road repairs and pipelines, and Permian Basin companies must take responsibility to make roads completely safe. if companies prioritized safety, drivers would find themselves in less deadly situations. Unfortunately, many companies won’t make the changes that are needed until it is too late for all drivers who rely on US 285 to travel safely.
No company should be allowed to operate a fleet of vehicles neglectfully. If you were injured during a Permian Basin car accident, call the attorneys at Arnold & Itkin today at (888) 493-1629. Our Texas firm has won billions for clients, and we are ready to fight for your recovery. A member of our legal team is ready to hear your story 24/7.