A Texas lawmaker is pushing for stronger oversight of potentially dangerous gas meters that are within striking distance of passing motorists, after NBC 5 Investigates and the Dallas Morning News reported areas of concern.
"The bottom line is we want to make sure that the public is safe. Cars are going to hit stuff, we know that," said State Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas), who wants authorities to be more aware of gas meters exposed to nearby roadways.
"So we need to move potentially dangerous situations back from the road, away from traffic," Anchia said.
Drivers in Texas have hit gas meters more than 3,600 times during the past nine years, according to the investigation by NBC 5 and the Morning News.
While it's not reflected in state crash records, experts said such collisions often cause the release of explosive gas, endangering not only the people in the vehicle, but also bystanders.
In 2006, a woman was killed in Central Texas in an explosion triggered by her accidentally backing over a gas meter near the edge of a driveway.
Anchia said the state should do a better job of knowing the places where gas meters are too close to roadways, and then moving them to a safe place.
"Look, if there is not a system for reporting these unsafe situations, that's something we can deal with," either through the implantation of new rules, or the passage of new legislation.
Anchia met recently with the Railroad Commission of Texas, the agency responsible for gas pipeline safety, to talk about new rules to address meters near roads.
NBC 5 Investigates and the Morning News found that, under current state law, vehicle-gas meter collisions only have to be reported to the commission if they involve the release of large amounts of gas, a death or an injury caused by the escaping gas.
In response to Anchia's push for change, the commission said it, "appreciates Chairman Anchia's work on important pipeline safety issues," and "will implement any legislation which is passed…"
Rich Parsons, a spokesperson for the railroad commission, said in a previous interview that gas meters near roadways are only a danger to motorists who drive badly.
"Drive safe. Drive safe. Stay in your lane," Parsons said.
Asked whether it was reasonable to expect motorists to drive flawlessly all the time, he said: "It's reasonable to expect Texans behind the wheel of a car to obey the traffic laws of this state."
That logic was questioned by Brigham McCown, former administrator of the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
"If everybody drove carefully, we wouldn't need airbags," McCown said, adding, "Things happen sometimes, even when you are trying to be careful."
State and federal regulations require gas meters to be moved, or protected by a barrier, if found to be at risk of being hit by a passing vehicle.
But NBC 5 Investigates and the Dallas Morning News found multiple locations in North Texas where meters remained very close to roadways, prompting people to send in pictures of even more meters within striking distance of nearby traffic.
"I have to reverse slightly, and then go forward, and then come back this way," said one NBC 5 viewer, Kristin Cole, describing what she had to do to prevent bumping, for a second time, into a gas meter that was near her office parking spot in Plano.
The largest gas company in North Texas, Atmos Energy, told NBC 5 Investigates it complies with all rules in placement of gas meters, and is willing to work with lawmakers to find ways to make the system safer.
Atmos is also addressing some of the meters highlighted in our reporting, including the one that Cole bumped into.
Anchia hopes more gas meters will be moved soon.
"We want to make sure that these roadside meters, in very close proximity to heavily trafficked areas, are really set up in the safest way possible," he said.