On March 6, 2018, Danielle Galvan, was driving her compact Chevrolet Spark, when the vehicle crashed into the rear of a tractor-trailer which was attempting to back up onto U.S. 287 near Wichita Falls, TX. Galvan was heading to Dallas from her parents’ home in the Panhandle when the fatal accident occurred.
That night the 23-year-old, aspiring fashion designer and model died in the fiery wreck. She left behind two young, beautiful children and a grieving family in Hereford, located southwest of Amarillo.
The crash happened in one of Texas’ largest and busiest oil-and-gas-producing regions, which joins the vast metropolitan areas of Dallas and Fort Worth.
Galvan’s death was one among 1,673 others who lost their lives in 2018 while driving through one of Texas’ five largest oil and gas industrial areas. That total is about half of all traffic fatalities in the state during that year’s span. Texas has been experiencing a resurgent of energy production that has attributed to its booming economy. However, the boom has had an impact on worsening driving conditions with the increase in heavier traffic on the roads in the production zones.
“It’s very scary out there right now,” said Richard Minnix, the owner of a Midland trucking company that serves oil-rich Permian Basin. “The biggest problem is distracted driving. It’s jacking with your cell phone, text messages.”
Nearly half of Texas’ fatal traffic crashes occur in five of the largest oil- and gas-producing areas in the state. In order to make the roads safer, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the trucking industry are joining efforts.
What are the causes of the fatal accident?
According to TxDOT figures, the No. 1 cause of crashes in Texas is speeding, with distracted driving a close second. Texting while driving was banned in the state in 2017, but that did not lower the crash rate during the first year the law was enacted.
“A big increase in the number of heavy trucks and traffic on state and county roads adds to the complexity of driving — something we always need to give our full attention to, while also obeying traffic laws,” said James Bass, TXDOT’s executive director.
The head of the Texas Trucking Association, John Esparza, reports that trucks can be blamed for only a small number of wrecks — both in the oil patches and statewide. Still, Esparza said much of the oil and gas production is taking place in rural Texas, where roads were built to accommodate a lesser degree of traffic. As those roads become much more congested, more fatalities are happening as more trucks are being involved in those areas in a disproportionate amount when compared to the whole rest of the state.
The Permian Basin covers much of West Texas and extends into New Mexico. It is possibly the nation’s biggest producer of oil and gas. In 2018, that area accounted for 485 highway deaths and 1,321 serious injuries, which numbers of traffic accidents increased by 13% from 2017 and the fatalities jumped by 20% from 2017.
Those figures pale in comparison to the Barnett Shale, which includes Fort Worth with its suburbs and extends to the Wichita Falls’ area. In 2018, 710 fatalities and 3,400 serious injuries occurred in the Barnett Shale locale.
Roads entering and exiting cities in high-producing regions present a challenge with keeping up with the traffic needs. Getting workers and equipment to the oil fields and then getting the product to the market creates traffic jams and thus more accidents. Esparza and Minnix both give TxDOT kudos for road improvements and expansion of traffic capacity in West Texas as well as in other high-producing regions.
The trucking association is working with TxDOT with a public-education initiative called “Be Safe. Drive Smart” targeting the state’s energy-producing locations. The campaign reminds drivers to do the following:
- Always buckle your seatbelts, both drivers as well as all passengers.
- Be aware of the amount of traffic and road and weather conditions when determining driving speed.
- Not talk or text on cell phones when driving.
- Pass large trucks only when it’s safe and legal to do so.
- Obey traffic signs and signals.
- Never drive after or while ingesting alcohol or other drugs.
Danielle’s death as a reminder
Georgian Perez, Galvan’s aunt, said she hopes her niece’s fatal accident can be a reminder of the terrible heartbreak families of those who die in highway crashes must endure.
“Danielle’s death left a huge void in our hearts that will never be filled,” Perez said. “She was indeed our treasure, our angel, and the kindest soul we were fortunate enough to have in our lives.
“I do not wish to see another person leaving their loved ones behind, because someone careless and selfish was behind the wheel.”