Highway safety in the North Dakota oil fields

A proposal has been made to expand 62 miles of Highway 85 between Watford City and Belfield, North Dakota to four lanes. The project manager is still collecting public comments, at this phase through public alternatives workshops in Belfield and Watford City. So far, highway safety seems to be the primary concern of interested parties. Watford City lies within the North Dakota oil field, where oil and gas production has had a significant impact on the roads and on the rate of traffic accidents and related injuries or fatalities. As it stands, Highway 85 necessarily accommodates oil field truck traffic in additional to residential and agricultural traffic, with only a few passing lanes. Citizens at a recent public meeting discussed recent vehicle fatalities and close calls in the area, which could be mitigated if people were able to pass safely.

In an already-hazardous industry, traffic crashes make up a large percentage of on-the-job fatalities for oil and gas workers. This is true for many reasons. First, fracking a well requires millions of gallons of water, which means hundreds or possibly thousands of trips trucking water to each well location, leading to a monumental increase in the sheer number of vehicles on the road. Second, oil field employees are often required to work long shifts, which can cause them to become fatigued. Data shows that driving while drowsy contributed to 72,000 motor vehicle crashes in 2013 alone, and some experts have said it can be as dangerous as drunk driving. The stress and fatigue caused by long shift requirements can also lead to substance abuse by workers trying to stay up for too many hours. Finally, in an attempt to save money, companies may shirk their responsibilities to take sufficient time to train new employees and to ensure that drivers have the proper qualifications. Given these dangers, it is no wonder that North Dakota residents would express support for any plan that would make their highways safer and help them avoid a tragic accident.