Are Oil Field Exemptions to Blame for Trucking Fatalities?

By Amber Stanford

May 15, 2012  – As the oil and gas industry gains momentum, there are an increasing number of industrial trucks on the highways. Truck drivers suffering from sleep deprivation is a well-known danger on the road. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic.

“Sleep is increasingly recognized as important to public health, with sleep insufficiency linked to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and medical and other occupational errors. Unintentionally falling asleep, nodding off while driving, and having difficulty performing daily tasks because of sleepiness all may contribute to these hazardous outcomes.1

“Sleepiness causes auto crashes because it impairs performance and can ultimately lead to the inability to resist falling asleep at the wheel. Critical aspects of driving impairment associated with sleepiness are reaction time, vigilance, attention, and information processing.2”

In recent times, there have been more than 300 oil and gas workers killed in highway related accidents, in large part due to the oil field industry exemptions from highway safety rules. These exemptions allowed truck drivers to work extended hours, but it is being abused by some employers now pressuring their employees to drive after shifts that frequently extend beyond 20 hours.

One oil service driver, Garr Farrell, complained that his managers had used the oil field exemptions to force him to wait, without anywhere to sleep, for 36 hours at one well site before he could unload his drilling supplies and get back on the highway. “Just because you are on an oil field site does not make you any less vulnerable to the effects of fatigue!3”

The most unfortunate part is that these accidents are only expected to increase over the upcoming years as more than 200,000 new oil and gas wells are expected to be drilled nationwide. This will include between 500 and 1500 truck trips per well, far more than what is currently required due to new drilling techniques. Although the wells will create many new jobs and economic benefits, it is coming at a deadly cost.

1. Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Epidemic?, CDC
2. Article no longer online: http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/drowsy_driving1/Drowsy.html#NCSDR/NHTSA
3. Deadliest Danger Isn’t on the Rig, but on the Road, Trial Lawyer Magazine & A Texas Motor Carrier’s Guide to Highway Safety, TXDPS, from The National Trial Lawyers Online