Editor’s Note: Winkler County Commissioner Hope Fernandez Williams is communicating with her constituents via a column in her local newspaper titled “Your County Corner.” Our thanks to Commissioner Williams for sharing her latest column with our readers.
There is a bill floating around Austin in need of a sponsor. This bill has been written by lawyers on behalf of an oil and gas producer in Colorado, and their purpose is to increase the commercial motor vehicles weight from 80,000 pounds to 120,000 pounds. Their argument is that more axles would be used to distribute the weight better. Regardless how the weight is distributed, it still amounts to 120,000 pounds. We already know what the current weight is doing to our roads.
I asked one of our Department of Public Safety officers in Winkler County if he could tell me how long it would take a truck going 55 mph with a total weight of 80,000 pounds to stop if he slammed on his brakes. Here is his response: “At 55 mph in semi-perfect conditions, it would take 144 feet or about 48 yards to stop. That’s half of a football field. Not to confuse things for an air brake system, it takes ½ a second for the brakes to engage. And if you’re fatigued or distracted, it could take another ½ second to react. So that is a whole second enabling a loaded truck to travel an additional 10-20 feet before coming to a stop.” These officers are the ones that have to get on the road after each accident and do the measuring, so I would venture to say, these figures are pretty accurate.
You have heard me speak of MOTRAN, Midland-Odessa Transportation Alliance, Inc. They have become a very valuable source of information regarding the Permian Basin. Their recent statistics were chilling to say the least. From 2017 to 2018, crashes have increased 60 percent on State Highway 302 between Odessa and US 285.
In Winkler County, the total crash number in 2016 was 97; 2017 increased to 187, while 2018 gave us 313. Winkler County fatalities were three in 2016; increasing to six in 2017; 2018 gave us 21 deaths. The commercial motor vehicles in 2018 were 110 of the 313 total crashes, while the fatalities were 13 of the 21 reported.
In their report, MOTRAN lists 12 counties: Andrews, Crane, Ector, Loving, Martin, Midland, Pecos, Reeves, Terrell, Upton, Ward and Winkler. In 2016, the total crashes were 8,297. In 2018, they increased to 13,895. Also, the fatalities for those same 12 counties in 2016 was 107, increasing to 211 in 2018.
According to industry representatives, a third of these crashes involved drivers “under the influence,” however they prefer the term “driver fatigue.”
A problem by any other name is still a problem. During a DPS sting in our area recently, nearly 40 percent of inspected trucks were decommissioned due to lack of commercial driver licenses and/or overweight or unsafe equipment, as stated by MOTRAN.
According to TXDOT, we have approximately 120 weight-restricted bridges around the Delaware Basin. In the event one of these overweight trucks hits any of these bridges, it would disrupt the workload for a lot of people for nearly one year.
I truly appreciate all the work going around our area at the moment. It is making people aware of the existence of West Texas, and thanks to the oil, gas, and sand industries, we are finally coming into our own. We can see better times ahead. Our communities are bursting at the seams. With growth comes prosperity, and with prosperity comes diversity. More and better opportunities for our children. No longer will they leave West Texas for greener pastures. The greener pastures will be in their back yards, sort of speak.
One last thought to leave you with: The Permian Basin contributes only 1.5 percent of the population of the entire state of Texas, however we also account for 15 percent of the fatalities. So, ask yourselves, do we really want heavier truck loads on our highways?
These writings are in no way the opinion of County Progress Magazine or Winkler County government officials, but rather my observations and things I have gathered. The information contained in this column has been retrieved from MOTRAN articles and with their permission to reprint.