A recent investigation conducted by the Houston Chronicle and Houston Public Media showed a staggering increase in fatal truck accidents in urban and shale drilling areas throughout Texas. In response to that investigation and report, the chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, Ted Houghton, has asked state officials to address the growing problem that has coincided with the state's oil and natural gas drilling boom that began in 2008.
The Chronicle's investigation showed an 8% increase in in traffic fatalities from 2009 to 2013, even as most other states saw fatality numbers continue to decline. In the same time period, fatalities caused by commercial truck accidents increased by an alarming 51%. In 2009, commercial truck accident caused 352 fatalities. That number jumped to 532 in 2013. Preliminary data for 2014 shows that the trend has no signs of slowing down.
State Officials Look for Solutions
The Texas Transportation Commission is set to hold a meeting in El Paso at the end of October. Houghton has asked state officials to be prepared to present a report listing high priority projects to repair roads and highways that have been worn down by the increased traffic from the oil and gas boom. Officials were also asked to identify stalled projects that the state can steer money away from in order to fund the new high priority projects.
In addition to repairing roads, Department of Transportation engineers could look to install rumble strips, lower speed limits on dangerous stretches of highway, and increase funding of public awareness campaigns to educate Texans about the growing problem.
Lowering Speed Limits
If DOT plans to lower speed limits on highways that have seen the biggest increases in fatal truck accidents, new legislation would need to be written and passed by State Congress. In 2011, legislation eliminated night time speed limits and raised maximum speed limits and maximum truck speed limits on 18,789 miles of Texas highways. Many of the highways with new maximum speed limits of 75 are the same stretches of highway that have seen an increased number of fatal truck accidents. One such area is the stretches of I-20 near Midland and Odessa, where officials are considering installing lane dividers after a number of vehicles have crossed the median into oncoming traffic.
While much of the focus has been on the shale drilling areas in the state, the Chronicle's investigation also found a string of high-profile fatal truck accidents that involved trucking companies that had either flunked audits or had been cited repeatedly for traffic violations. One such fatal accident in April involved a trucking company that had been ordered out of business by the Department of Public Safety (DPS) after failing an audit in 2013.
A key component of the effort to reduce the number of fatal accidents is more traffic enforcement from the DPS. However, a lack of infrastructure and high housing costs have made adding to the number of state troopers patrolling these areas problematic. The shale drilling boom in remote areas of South and West Texas do not offer many available lodging accommodations for troopers. With many of the hotels booked full of contract drilling workers, troopers patrolling the areas have occasionally had to sleep at DOT offices. The DPS is already dealing with a shortage in state troopers due to the number of troopers who have been diverted to patrol the Texas / Mexico border.
The investigation by the Houston Chronicle / Public Media also looked into a cluster of accidents that resulted in multiple fatalities. They determined that a number of those fatal accidents were caused by truck drivers falling asleep at the wheel, many of whom had been working shifts as long as 24 hours. The number of accidents that involved multiple fatalities rose from 72 in 2010 to 101 in 2012 and to 148 in 2013. In just over six months, 81 people have died in 2014 in multiple fatality truck accidents.
Truck driver fatigue is estimated to contribute to 40% of all commercial truck accidents. Many truck drivers are pushed to work long shifts on little rest in order to meet delivery times, which puts the other motorists on the road at risk of harm. If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident with a commercial truck, contact our truck accident attorneys today.