Over the past decade, more than 300 oil and gas workers have been killed in highway crashes, the largest cause of fatalities in the industry, according to a recent report by the New York Times.
Did you know that oil field truck drivers are not required to follow the same rules as other truckers regarding hours on the road and rest? For example, most commercial truckers must stop driving no later than 14 hours after their workday begins. Many oil and gas industry drivers, however, do not have to count time spent waiting at the well site while other crews finish their tasks. These wait times can sometimes stretch over 10 hours. If most commercial truckers work 60 hours over seven consecutive days, they must take at least 34 hours off so they can get two full nights of sleep. Oil and gas truckers who work that long are required to take only 24 hours off.
The oil field exemptions were granted in the 1960s after officials in the industry argued that its drivers needed more flexibility in their schedules. Since then, the exemptions have survived repeated attempts to remove them.
A major difference now is that the oil field is relying on more trucks and more trips. The drilling technique that will be used at more than 90 percent of new wells over the next decade is known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. This technique uses millions of gallons of water per well and the water is brought to the well by trucks. As a result, fracking employs far more trucks and trips— roughly 500 to 1,500 truck trips per well — than traditional drilling.
Everyone on the road is put in danger when a tired oil field truck driver gets behind the wheel. Studies show that truck crash risk increases exponentially after 8 consecutive hours of driving and the highest level of crash risk occurs during both the 10th and 11th hours of consecutive driving. Decreasing truck driver’s HOS by one hour would limit the time they are on the road during this period of highest crash risk
Last year, the National Transportation Safety Board said it “strongly opposed” the oil field exemptions because they raise the risk of crashes. Nonetheless, the oil field industry has been able to keep the exemptions in place.
Of course, even though the federal bureaucracy may be unwilling to require these companies to give drivers the rest they need to drive safely, those companies that do push their drivers too hard can still be held responsible for the damage and suffering they cause when their overworked trucks crash into us, killing and injuring innocent folks on the highway.