Last week, the Winkler County Sheriff’s office posted some data on their Facebook page that showed a sharp increase in the number of crashes in a number of West Texas counties from 2016 to 2018. In particular, the post noted that the total number of crashes had increased by two-thirds, with a 97 percent increase in fatalities in the Odessa District of Ector County.
More alarming was their note that commercial vehicle crashes were up 160 percent (from 153 crashes in 2016 to 529 in 2018) and commercial vehicle fatalities were up 122 percent (from 8 in 2016 to 22 in 2018).
TxDOT Racing to Make West Texas Roads Safer
The Odessa Police Department noted the increase and also noted the correlation between the number of people who have moved to the area for oil and gas drilling jobs and the number of accidents on the surrounding roads.
With the steady increase in the price of West Texas Intermediate crude oil since the middle of 2017, there has been a strong surge of activity in the Permian Basin. As a result, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has been working hard to build out area roads to support the increased activity. In all, they have invested about $2 billion in 1,400 projects designed to make the roads in the Odessa District much better and safer. In addition to Ector County, The Odessa District includes portions of Winkler, Ward, and Loving Counties. However, sections of Midland, Pecos, Crane, Upton, and Andrews Counties are also undergoing major roadwork.
These roadway projects include the paving and widening of roads that are seeing heavy traffic, to improve the conditions of existing roads and lanes and to make them better for the heavy vehicles that are using roads that were originally made for rural traffic. TxDOT is also in the process of constructing new roadways to move traffic away from roads that are already clogged due to traffic from this latest oil boom.
While West Texas Crashes Increase, There is Better News Texas-Wide
With so many projects underway, and more coming, and with the heavy traffic not expected to subside anytime soon, there are a great many challenges for West Texas drivers to deal with. That is probably why West Texas is experiencing a significant increase in auto accidents. The rise in oil and gas drilling activity in the region has combined with the frac-sand mines that have begun to pop up throughout the region.
What is frustrating officials in West Texas is that the surge in accidents comes as the state as a whole is experiencing something completely different. Statewide, Texas is seeing a decrease in traffic fatalities. Just last week, the Insurance Council of Texas (ICT) reported that, after seven straight years of increases, TxDOT data showed a four percent decrease in traffic fatalities, from 3,720 in 2017 to 3,567 in 2018. In addition, the number of fatal auto-pedestrian accidents also fell, from 676 pedestrians in 2016 to 597 last year, which is a 12 percent decrease. Even with the decline last year, however, traffic fatalities in 2018 were still nearly 25 percent higher than in 2010.
One reason cited by ICT for the statewide drop is the new statewide law banning texting while driving, which was passed in 2017. Most traffic safety experts note that distracted driving laws do save lives and reduce the number of accidents and fatalities nationwide.
The Key to Better Road Safety: Drive Safely
Two other problems that may be plaguing West Texas drivers may be drunk driving and speeding. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently reported that, while drunk-driving crashes nationwide have fallen by almost one-third over the past three decades, the number of people killed is still far too high, with nearly 30 Americans dying in drunk driving accidents every day. That’s one every 48 minutes. In addition, the NHTSA says ignoring speed limits is cited as a contributing factor in accidents in fully three percent of all fatal accidents.
It is great for everyone that TxDOT is working to improve the roads in West Texas, but we all have to work harder to drive safely and defensively and to follow the speed limits and always pay more attention to the task of driving than to our smartphones.