Texas tries to curb road deaths from energy boom

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Transportation authorities in Texas have been working to reduce traffic deaths related to the oil and natural gas boom, but local officials and industry experts agree that education alone won’t solve the problem.

“Our roads are really deteriorating” because of the surge in heavy traffic, said Karnes County Sherriff Dwayne Villanueva. “A lot of the traffic accidents are being caused by the road conditions.”

Karnes County now has an accident serious enough to require air transport of victims three or four times each week, compared with only a few times a month before drilling operations took off, the sheriff said.

John Esparza of the Texas Trucking Association said the drilling boom has brought many benefits to the state, but investments in roads have not kept pace.

“We’ve just got to rethink the way we’re engineering our roads,” Esparza said. “The amount of truck traffic - they weren’t designed for that.”

Esparza also said longtime residents of some rural counties need to adjust the way they think about driving.

“People don’t know how to share the road with these large vehicles,” he said. “We’re talking about a general infusion of people and equipment that counties have not seen before.”

But Villanueva said the industry has work to do, too.

Karnes County officers believe many oil field workers are probably driving longer hours than the law allows. The county has had two incidents in which oil company trucks ran into school buses, and the drivers reported they were just tired, Villanueva said.

Esparza said progress is being made in reducing the number of accidents per driving mile. That’s a standard way to measure safety, but Esparza said the drilling boom has a catch.

“The fear is, miles are going to get greater and greater,” he said of the volume of heavy truck traffic. “By virtue of that, the number of people who lose their lives is likely to grow” unless changes are made.

Villanueva said members of law enforcement struggle with the psychological toll of responding to a steady stream of accidents with fatalities.

“It’ll get to you after a while,” he said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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