Locals in West Texas call Route 285 a “death highway.” Why does this road have such a terrible reputation, and is it deserved?
Route 285 runs through the Permian Basin to the West Texas oilfields. It’s a primary route for class A trucks hauling water, sand, fuel, and other supplies. The higher the price of crude, the more truck accidents happen along this route. In 2017, 93 people died in truck accidents just on the Texas side.
The Dangers of Route 285
So, what makes Route 285 one of the most dangerous roads in the United States? There are a number of factors:
- The road, built in 1926, was never intended to carry commercial trucks and heavy traffic. It requires a lot of improvement, which hasn’t happened yet, although funds have been allocated and part of the road has been designated a safety corridor with higher fines. The oilfields are using the huge 18-wheelers, which barely fit on the road. The weight of the trucks also causes potholes which can endanger other vehicles.
- The high demand for truck drivers is resulting in less experienced drivers being hired. Drivers are tempted with salaries that can easily reach $120,000. Oilfield companies are recruiting people through community college and helping them get their CDL. Companies are also hiring drivers from other parts of the country who are not used to driving on rural roads.
- High demand is also causing drivers to work long hours and not take the breaks required by federal motor carrier safety rules. Driver fatigue can cause even worse impairment than alcohol. Many drivers are being forced to work fourteen-hour days for ten or eleven days straight. Drivers also speak about a “culture of risk” when they can do so anonymously — further adding to the reputation of the “death highway.”
- Trucking companies are not being as strict as they might be about required maintenance, again because of the speed at which they want to get deliveries. This also results in more breakdowns, and then drivers who rush to make up the time. Large trucks also require more maintenance than more typical on-the-road trucks.
- Some drivers are, just as with the general population, talking on their cell phones while driving or using drugs or alcohol. Long hours may increase cell phone conversations, as truck drivers try to stay in touch with their families.
Other Permian Basin roads have also become dangerous, with trucks often going down roads they are not allowed to use.
What Is Being Done About the “Death Highway”?
The state DOT has established an 18-mile safety corridor with signs and doubled fines. They are also planning on rebuilding parts of the road, but this can’t happen overnight and is expensive. The current plan also keeps the “death highway” as two lanes, rather than four with a barrier. Adding a barrier would significantly reduce the number of crashes. Some speed limits have also been lowered.
There are also advertising campaigns to encourage safer driving, but how much impact this will have on rushed truckers either desperate to make more money or threatened with the loss of their job.
If the price of crude drops, so will the accidents. However, current events indicate that oil production in the area is likely to increase. For some people, avoiding 285 and the Permian Basin may be the answer, but it is not always possible. While improvements are waited on, the best thing to do is drive very carefully on this dangerous “death highway.”
If you or a loved one have been injured or killed in a commercial truck accident, then you need a top-rated truck accident lawyer. Even if you can settle with the company’s insurance provider, having an experienced attorney can result in a faster and more generous settlement. You should contact Morrow & Sheppard LLP right away to schedule a free, confidential consultation and find out how they can help you get the compensation you deserve.