Drivers in the oil industry have one of the toughest jobs in an extremely dangerous industry.
They haul 35-ton trucks filled with toxic chemicals along Texas’s rural roads. A wrong move could spell disaster. The volatile materials can explode or catch fire during a crash, leaving the driver and any motorists involved with little chance of survival. A punctured tank can spill toxic fumes into the environment and harm colleagues and surrounding residents.
A good night’s rest and an alert mind are crucial. Yet, drivers who transport materials between oil sites are exempt from the hours of service (HOS) regulations that limit drive time and require rest between work shifts. That’s right, drivers transporting deadly materials are less regulated rather than more.
How do truckers deal with the longer hours? Many take crystal meth to chase away boredom and stay awake.
Add dilapidated trucks into the equation. The conditions for trucks on an oilfield are harsh. How do companies deal with their trucks falling into disrepair? The scary answer is they often don’t. Oil trucks are often taken out of service, but in the meantime, poorly maintained trucks are at higher risk of accident.
Don’t employers test for drugs?
If you think you’ve noticed more oil trucks on the road, it’s not your imagination. Texas has experienced a resurgence of oil drilling, which requires more trucks to haul raw and refined toxic materials. Meth sales have also boomed in direct correlation.
More than 1,000 oil industry workers and applicants failed drug tests in the first six months of 2017, equal to double the amount as last year during the same period. The number who tested positive for meth jumped fivefold.
But drug specialists think this is just a drop in the oil tank. Some supervisors turn a blind eye. As one worker put it, they don’t mind drugs as long as they aren’t doing stupid things. Other supervisors actually alert workers that a random drug test is scheduled. Companies benefit from the epidemic. They can get more work out of a meth-fueled until the worker becomes sick or crashes.
Drivers may resort to bribes, with workers from a drug treatment program offering $1,000 to $5,000. There are also high-tech temperature controlled bottles that help workers pass urine tests with assistance from their colleagues. A driver who tests positive can just move on to the next job at another company.
Unless law enforcement steps up their game, drivers on meth will keep slipping through the cracks.
Why is the oil industry exempt from hours of service laws?
This is the million dollar question.
Oil industry companies were granted exemptions of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) hours of service regulations in the 1960s. Authorities were met with backlash when they tried to do away with the exemptions in 2010. Lobbyists claimed drivers needed the flexibility to perform their jobs. In reality, only the companies and their investors benefit from this cushy arrangement.
In a Houston Chronicle article, one driver described working 36 to 48 hours then driving in a tight formation blowing their horns to keep each other awake. Clearly, these drivers need to be removed from the road and their employers removed from business.
What does this have to do with you?
The drugs and poor lifestyle puts drivers at risk of addiction and health complications. But the dangers extend far away from the oilfields. When these drivers make their way onto Texas’s roads, they put all our lives at risk.
I have represented families of victims killed by oil truck drivers. The situation is always heart wrenching and always completely avoidable. It’s time to place stricter rules on drivers and oil companies and come down hard on violators.