The oil and gas boom is causing indirect problems in areas around refineries and shipping ports – a surge in traffic fatalities in states where roads are congested by large trucks and drilling equipment. The industry acknowledges the issue, and claim it is taking steps to improve roadway safety. Experts are less optimistic. Truck accident attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm dig deeper into this issue and how the public can help.
Journalists at the Associated Press recently analyzed traffic data from the U.S. census in six heavy-drilling states – Colorado, Texas, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and North Dakota. Despite safer roads nationwide, data showed that the six drilling states suffered quadruple traffic deaths in the last ten years. Texas authorities in particular are overwhelmed by the surge in devastating accidents – and they do not anticipate it to slow down anytime soon.
For example, a town in West Virginia saw traffic fatalities rise 42% in 2013, while traffic deaths in the rest of the state dropped by 8%. This is quite common in other areas of the country where drilling is booming. In North Dakota drilling areas, the average rate of deaths per 100,000 people rose nearly 150% in the last four years.
The oil and gas boom is fueled primarily by new drilling technologies; optimists state the boom is creating new jobs, boosting local economies, and bringing manufacturing back too U.S. shores. The indirect consequences, however, are far-reaching. Here, we will focus on the impact on American roadways and families.
Last year, two young boys were killed by a tanker truck in West Virginia; a Texas teen was struck by a drilling truck on his way to work, suffering fatal injuries; one month after the Texas crash, on the same road, no less, three retired teachers all died after being hit by a natural gas truck.
Of course, not all traffic deaths involved trucks directly from oil rigs, and other motorists are at fault for some of the crashes, however, the impact of drilling activity on small communities and the influx of major traffic factors cannot be denied. Regardless of where or why, crashes increase when the volume of traffic heightens. Add in semi-trucks and vessels carrying heavy machinery, and the risks are compounded.
Also compounding the problem is that many of the smaller communities have experienced such a sudden surge in growth that they have not had the resources to install new traffic signals, hire extra police or build better roads. Changes come fast in this industry because the oil reservoirs could run out at any moment, so drillers need to get the natural gas flowing at soon as possible and get drivers and their trucks on the road to consumers.
Experts assert that regulatory loopholes make things worse by being more lenient on the amount of time truckers can stay on the road. One study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death in oil and gas workers.
Transportation departments and drillers in all six states are ramping up efforts to reduce crashes and congested traffic by adopting new safety initiatives, recycling drilling water (instead of transporting it off-site), adding and widening lanes on roads, and building more pipelines for transporting water.
The federal government is increasing its efforts as well. The National Transportation Safety Board recently issued several recommendations to improve tractor-trailer safety, addressing three primary areas of concern: blind spots, underriding (when a vehicle is small enough to slide under the trailer during impact), and truck safety data.
Our team of truck accident attorneys has been fighting on behalf of those injured in serious vehicle accidents for over 30 years. If you or someone close to you was injured in a traffic accident involving a large truck contact our office immediately for a free case review.