If you follow local headlines in Midland-Odessa, it seems like there’s a fatal car crash every couple of days.
According to the Texas Department of Transportation, the oil-booming Permian Basin saw a 13 percent increase in roadside deaths from 2012-2013. Last week, a victims’ rights coalition in Midland held a panel discussion on how to deal with the region’s increasingly dangerous roads.
Organizers of the event say most of those wrecks stem from the “3 D’s” – drugs, drinking and distracted driving. But the oil and gas boom in the Basin is compounding those dangers: simply put, there’s just more traffic and bigger trucks on the road than before.
TxDOT’s been trying to tackle the problem with radio and TV ads like this one, but education only goes so far.
Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter says the best way to keep the roads safe is simply to put more boots on the ground.
“High visibility is the only thing that I can think of that will slow people down,” he says.
Painter says his office is focusing on traffic hot spots in the county – places like Greenwood, SH 349 and US 191.
But even with increased police presence, Painter says it’s hard to keep the roads safe because of the number of inexperienced drivers getting behind the wheels of big trucks.
He says some oil and gas companies are hiring young drivers with little-to-no professional experience:
“People that are moving into the community that think that the truck-driving industry is the best thing going, and they’re going to make a lot of money at it, and they don’t know how to handle a truck.”
Painter says these newcomers can stand to make anywhere from $72,000 to $100,000 a year, but just because they get the job doesn’t always mean they’re qualified for it.
“It takes a lot practice to be able to what you call herd a truck, and drive a truck,” he says, “it’s two different things.”
Heavier truck traffic in the region isn’t the reason more people are dying in wrecks, but it’s a contributing factor in a more hazardous driving environment. Authorities say they are keeping an eye on the industry’s drivers.
The Midland Police Department set up a special unit focused on commercial fleets last year. Police Chief Price Robinson says since then, they’ve also been teaching companies directly how to keep their drivers trained and safe as possible.
But it’s yet to be seen whether more patrol cars and more calls for safety will be enough to stop the rising death toll on the region’s road – so far this year there have been 24 fatal wrecks in Midland and Ector Counties combined.
Travis Bubenik contributed reporting to this story.
Since KXWT received those fatality numbers from TxDOT, yet another person had died in a car accident, bringing the total number of fatal traffic accidents in Midland and Ector Counties combined to 24. Fatal accidents are now averaging 1 per week in Midland County alone.