Truck traffic in the Permian Basin has exploded in recent years as crude oil is transported to Gulf Coast refineries in Texas and fracking activities have expanded. Yet the road infrastructure has largely stayed the same.
Steve Williamson, CEO of privately owned and operated crude oil hauler Indeca Crude Xpress, which operates in the West Texas and Southeastern New Mexico areas of the basin, says the roads were simply not designed for the current level of use. That’s reflected in the increased congestion, and the subsequent high crash and fatality rates in the region.
With his trucks operating in traffic-heavy, active areas, and drivers inevitably finding themselves in vulnerable positions along the road, Indeca’s Williamson became an early adopter of safety technologies on his tankers to help maintain his safety record. The fleet is equipped with inward and outward dash cameras, backup cameras, and was the first commercial truck fleet to apply Emergency Safety Solutions’ hazard avoidance technology.
Like the lack of expansion of the road infrastructure in the Permian Basin, Williamson says for many years there has been virtually no meaningful changes or advancements around visual aid technology for disabled vehicles. When trucks need to pull over, they have cones, triangles and slow blinking lights as their only defense mechanism. In this area, Williamson says more needs to be done because vehicles often zip past disabled trucks at 70 miles an hour within 6 to 10 inches of the truck.
“One of the biggest challenges is that we’re hauling hazmat…we’re hauling a ‘bomb.’ We’ve got 175 barrels of bomb behind us. And I’m going to tell you, the last thing you need is a vehicle to hit that trailer from behind — it’s like a fuse. So, for us, [safety] is of utmost importance,” Williamson says.
In the dusty, low-visibility environment of an oil field, the standard defenses aren’t enough. At least not for Williamson, who prides himself on Indeca’s proactive safety efforts.
That’s why Indeca was the first commercial truck application to pilot ESS’ hazard avoidance technology, Hazard Enhanced Location Protocol DeliverSAFE, or H.E.L.P. for short. The technology notifies upcoming motorists of disabled or shouldered vehicles through digital alerts sent to incoming drivers through their in-vehicle dashboard displays and GPS mapping apps. H.E.L.P. DeliverSAFE also includes an enhanced hazard flash pattern to grab the attention of oncoming drivers and prompt them to slow down and move over a lane.
Indeca is in the process of implementing it on all 70 trucks.
“[H.E.L.P.] goes a long way in mitigating these deadly rear end collisions, first by making the stranded vehicle visible at a long distance. Second, is the digital alert within the navigation of vehicles,” Williamson said.
Indeca pairs the ESS technology with its rear-side cameras to better understand incidents. The company began experimenting with cameras as early as 2010, when the technology wasn’t as prevalent in the trucking industry as it is today. Now, all the company’s tankers are equipped with Lytx Artificial Intelligence cameras on three positions of the truck. He says that technology has done more for the safety of the driver than anything they’ve implemented since the fleet’s inception.
However, having cameras faced on the back field view can often be a point of contention for some drivers in this application since their work area is the side of the truck.
“That’s an area of intense work that you have to do safely,” he says. Drivers are required to follow rules — such as staying near the hose, wearing hard hats, monitoring hydrogen sulfide levels, etc. And with Lytx AI, those standards can be closely monitored.
As with most monitoring technology, it can feel invasive to a driver at first, he says.
“Over time, what the driver learns is it’s for their benefit; it actually does help save their lives or keep their lives safe, and you eventually get a buy-in,” Williamson says.
Williamson says cameras have led to a drastic improvement in driver behavior and safety. He feels so strongly about the benefit of cameras that he believes every commercial piece of equipment in the country should have one.
This article was published in the October 2022 issue of Heavy Duty Trucking.