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Michael J. Doyle, Attorney At Law Michael J. Doyle, Attorney At Law
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New Mexico Oil Boom Transforms Rural Road to “Death Highway”

countryside view of canyon fields in desert on highway 285

Over the past few years, New Mexico and West Texas’ Permian Basin has become the most productive oil field in the United States—if not the world. The Permian Basin accounts for roughly 96% of New Mexico’s crude oil production and almost a third of the entire country’s.

Yet, as oil fields have multiplied and the economy boomed, hazards have increased as well. Oil fields are notoriously dangerous and those that lie within our state’s section of the Permian Basin are no different. Though accidents involving fires and defective or improperly used equipment have become rampant, there is another consequence that may seem less obvious. Many of the rural roads in the area have become hotbeds for traffic accidents, including a stretch of US-285 the locals call “Death Highway.”

More Traffic Equals More Accidents—But That’s Not the Only Problem

US-285, which runs through towns like Roswell and Carlsbad, has seen a dramatic increase in traffic, including heavy trucks, especially on the stretch near the Texas border over the last couple of years. The sudden influx of trucks is necessary to transport oil field essentials such as drilling equipment, sand, chemicals, and the millions of barrels of oil the Permian Basin produces each day.

In 2018, there were 49 crashes, an increase from the 31 crashes of the year before—and 20 of those involved a heavy truck. Most of the crashes are caused by human error—the main causes are reportedly speeding, failure to yield at intersections, crossing the centerline in an attempt to pass other vehicles, and driver inattention, according to a 2018 study by the New Mexico Department of Transportation, the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, and Molzen Corbin, an Albuquerque engineering and planning firm.

The pressure to stick to delivery timelines, a lack of qualified and/or adequately trained drivers, and an influx of workers lured by the financial rewards of the boom but who are unfamiliar with the area may be exacerbating the problem. Because oil companies are rapidly hiring drivers, more and more of who are from outside the region and even outside the country, they may not be equipped to handle the area’s crumbling and congested roads and highways.

Safety measures have started to appear. Extra patrols and increased fines for speeding have been put in place to make the roads safer. There are also road repair projects in the planning states or just beginning. Yet, to truly keep up with the massive growth of the area, more will have to be done to ensure New Mexico’s roads are as safe as can be.

Have you or a loved one been injured on a dangerous road in the Permian Basin or hurt while working in an oil field in the Hobbs/Roswell area? If so, reach out to our Albuquerque car accident and worker’s compensation attorneys. We serve all of New Mexico.