The oil boom in North Dakota is great for the economy, but is leading to terrible problems for locals in the Bakken Shale area. One issue of great concern is the shocking increase in fatal and serious accidents involving trucks in the area. With 12,000 trucks moving through the communities of Watford City, Williston, Dickinson and Minot, there have been an appalling increase in fatalities and serious injuries in accidents involving oil trucks. Some of these accidents are a direct result of distracted driving. Although the oil extraction industry has inherent dangers, according to reports, in North Dakota, of the 49 deaths reported for construction, extraction and mining, 69.3% were the result of a transportation accident.

What are North Dakota Lawmakers Doing About the Problem?

Transportation of crude oil has always had problems, including spills, pipeline ruptures, truck accidents and other events. The industry is regulated by several agencies, but state lawmakers are lagging behind in protecting the locals from the threat of serious injury, as once-quiet rural roads have grown to be heavily-travelled arteries serving the oil and gas extraction industry. Road improvements are in the works, including on N.D. Highway 23 in Watford City to N.D. Highway 1806, which could offer some relief, but will take time – time in which many other innocent people will lose their lives in truck accidents in the area.

The Problem: Truck Drivers Who Multi-Task

Oil supplies must be transported from location A to location B, every day. Adding to the congestion on local roads, the surrounding communities have swelled in population with the influx of workers into the area, many of which are drivers. Distracted driving is unfortunately the “norm” for many of these truck drivers, who use their drive-time to engage in multi-tasking behind the wheel. Not only are many truck drivers lacking experience, they work long shifts, and their travel-time often involves other activities, whether connecting with family by phone, eating or texting.

Distracted driving is currently the second leading cause of fatal accidents in North Dakota, surpassed only by drug or alcohol intoxication.

North Dakota’s Fatality Rate

North Dakota currently has the highest fatality rate in the oil and gas extraction industry in the nation, and a large percentage of these deaths take place on the local roads which are heavily used by the oil companies. These drivers are operating large, heavy vehicles, travelling back and forth on roads originally built for the farming community, which are now in poor repair, and further impacted by winter snow and ice. In 2011 the traffic fatality rate in North Dakota stood at 52 points higher than the national average, surpassing any other state in the nation, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

With single lane traffic moving through single and unpaved roads, with trucks being operated by less experienced drivers who are working shifts lasting 7 to 10 days on 12 hour shifts, the problem has reached epidemic proportions. It is time for state lawmakers to take action.