Energy Boom Could Be Making Wyoming Roads More Dangerous

August 21, 2007

A Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper says the energy boom appears to be making the state’s highways more dangerous.

Workers who have put in long hours with little sleep are becoming more common, especially in Wyoming’s gas boom areas. They fill up motels, sometimes forcing sleepy travelers to drive on.

Also, they’re drinking alcohol and using drugs, according to Trooper Brian Bragonier.

“There definitely are a lot of guys who are pushing the envelope,” Bragonier said.

Bragonier first served the Wamsutter area in south-central Wyoming back in 1999. He said he noticed major changes in traffic patterns when he returned to that area in 2006.

“The traffic increase on Highway 789 from Creston Junction to Baggs is just incredible. I would say it’s at least tenfold of what it was back in 1999,” he said.

He said some workers finish a 12- or 15-hour work day, then drive two hours to reach their hotels or man camps. On weekends, he said, they finish their shifts, then drive home to other parts of the state or country.

“I’ve stopped guys who are driving from the Baggs area up to Spokane, Wash., every week or down to Phoenix, Ariz., every week,” Bragonier said. “They get off the rig at, say, 7 in the morning, after their final shift, and get behind the wheel and push it.”

He said substance abuse is another huge problem in the industry.

“That all ties into the young, risk-taking population that’s working out there,” he said.

The number of crashes in Wyoming caused by driver fatigue edged up from 393 in 2002 to 406 in 2006, according to the Wyoming Department of Transportation.

But that doesn’t take into account nonresident workers who fall asleep after they cross the state line, according to Bragonier.

“In those particular cases, we might not be seeing the crashes here in Wyoming,” Bragonier said. “They might make it outside of Wyoming and might not crash until they get a little closer to where they are going.”

Wyoming ranked first for per-capita job fatalities in 2005. The 46 on-the-job deaths averaged out to 16.8 per 100,000 workers.

Twenty-five of those deaths were transportation-related, up from 17 in 2000, according to an AFL-CIO report.

State transportation officials say fatal accidents often occur in Wyoming when drivers leave the road or swerve outside their lane _ both typical of tired drivers.

Just 2 percent to 3 percent of all crashes in Wyoming over the last 10 years were caused by exhaustion. But exhaustion contributed to 12.5 percent of all fatal crashes, state figures show.

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