Permian Basin Safety Road Coalition honors region’s road safety champions

Permian Road Safety Coalition honors region’s road safety champions

Every day since Nov. 7, 2000, at least one person has lost their life on Texas roads, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.

It’s a grim statistic and a primary motivator for the Permian Road Safety Coalition (PRSC), which, at the regional level, supports a statewide effort to “End the Streak of fatalities.” The PRSC, which formed in 2016 and became a nonprofit in 2019, routinely brings government agencies, industry and community stakeholders together to find solutions to reduce roadway fatalities and accidents in the Permian Basin.

With a 20 percent reduction in fatalities in the region since 2022 despite booming industrial activity, the collaborative efforts appear to be making a difference. The PRSC’s quest for road safety was made evident at its 2nd Annual Road Safety Champions Awards, which was sponsored by Texas Mutual Insurance and held at the Odessa Marriott Hotel on Jan. 31. Chevron sponsored a reception on Jan 30.  The sold-out event of more than 250 people recognized individual safe drivers, and companies whose safe driving programs contribute to overall road safety and help to reduce fatalities.

Michael Smith, managing director of the PRSC, said that while it is important to call out unsafe behavior and conditions, it is also important to highlight examples of those who are doing their part to make roadways safer.

“We recognize there were many companies and many individuals in the Permian Basin who are doing the right thing,” Smith said. “They are teaching, they are driving safely, they are having milestones inside their companies because of programs they developed that are setting them up for success.”

Among those honored at the Jan. 31 ceremony was Gilbert Ortiz of Fountainhead Logistics, who earned the “No Need for Speed” award for exemplary performance in driver safety. Ortiz holds a perfect Samsara safety score of 100 over his 50,100 miles with Fountainhead, ranking at the end of the 2023 as the No. 1 driver, according to the PRSC.

Also honored was John Teague of Hughes Oilfield Transportation, who lost his son Dustin in 2010 to a distracted driving accident. In January 2011, Teague and his wife started a support group for loved ones who have lost a child, which grew to the point that Teague began traveling statewide to speak on the impacts of distracted driving.

PRSC gave its “Second to None” Award to Gary Gardenhire, a first responder who works to keep the streets safe from illegal racing. Gardenhire partnered with Scott and Stacey Erwin to open an Odessa race track on Friday nights to encourage street racers to “take it to the track” rather than race on Odessa streets.

OXY’s Terry Carrell and bpx energy each earned PRSC’s “The Extra Mile” award. Carrell leads a program at Oxy that has trained over 3,000 people via a driving simulator. The program is credited with enabling a significant reduction in severe motor vehicle accidents. Meanwhile, bpx energy implemented Nauto’s AI technology, which tracks and analyzes risks in real-time and provides preventative warnings designed to give drivers extra time to respond.

Zack Czelada, an HES Advisor for Oxy who spent countless hours of his free time working with the PRSC, earned the nonprofit’s “Front Seat Driver Award.”

Smith said the award-winners are proof many people in the Permian Basin are dedicated to road safety. Still, 222 individuals lost their lives on the roads in the Permian Basin in 2023, which shows the work is far from over.

The Jan. 31 awards ceremony additionally served to introduce some of the strategies that will be used to enhance safety into the future. During the event, Robert Wunderlich of the Texas Transportation Institute unveiled what the PRSC described as “one of the most comprehensive studies ever conducted on road safety in the Permian Basin.” The PRSC and TTI partnered to analyze five years of vehicular crash data from 27 counties in West Texas and Southeast New Mexico. The resulting database is evergreen in that it regularly draws from state data.

The concentration on robust data collection and analysis, mixed with a healthy serving of collaboration across jurisdictional lines, appears to be key to the PRSC’s success. One strategy involves sending a state trooper to document intersections deemed unsafe. The PRSC then convenes a meeting of all those who use or are tasked with maintaining those intersections to decide what needs to be done, and who will do it.

“We convene a meeting of all the right people and we do it in person, in that county,” Smith said, noting in some cases it isn’t clear who is responsible for certain intersections.

With all the right people communicating across the region regularly, the PRSC hopes to help Texas end its grim streak of fatalities. Smith admits the recent reduction in road deaths is “always a cautionary tale.”

“We’re only a few horrific accidents away from erasing all the gains that have been made,” Smith said. “But having said that, we are incredibly pleased and proud of the fact that our supporters and others in the Permian Basin have taken this issue to heart, and have really worked really hard to make a difference.”

Listen to this story at 2 pm daily via the Recording Library of West Texas