The Permian Basin shale oil boom has brought billions of dollars and numerous high-paying jobs to Texas, and it has brought the United States to the verge of surpassing Russia and Saudi Arabia to become the top oil producer in the world. It has also brought a large demand for trucking, and, with it, a large number of truck accidents.
Route 285, which stretches from Carlsbad, New Mexico to Pecos, Texas and runs through the Permian Basin, has been dubbed the “Death Highway.” As noted in a Bloomberg article over the weekend, 93 people died in truck accidents in 2017 in the Texas side of the Permian Basin alone. It may be one of the most dangerous highways in America, and, as the Bloomberg article explains, the death toll seems to rise and fall with the price of oil.
The cause is simple: too much demand for trucks, and not enough qualified drivers. As Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter told Bloomberg, truck drivers can easily make $120,000 per year in the Permian Basin. This leads to larger numbers of inexperienced drivers, and incentivizes them to drive as many miles as possible. As a result, drivers put in long hours with insufficient rest, probably looking to pull in as much as possible before the price of oil falls again.
Even worse, these truckers’ long hours are increasingly fueled by drugs. Drivers are reportedly using cocaine and amphetamines, including meth, to stay alert for 24-hour-plus shifts. They then finish their shifts with “downers” like prescription painkillers or alcohol. As one 23-year-old recovering addict told the Chronicle: “I don’t see myself being able to work 100 hours a week sober.” The results are, sadly, predictable.