Latest News 2017 November States Looking to Make Garbage Collection Less Deadly

States Looking to Make Garbage Collection Less Deadly

As a public service job, garbage collection is more likely to get you killed than law enforcement or firefighting. Much of the risk sanitation workers face is from drivers trying to get around garbage trucks at high speeds. Cars will swerve around trucks, sometimes causing a fatal collision with workers or vehicles. While that doesn't account for all the fatalities faced by municipal garbage collectors, state legislatures are turning their eye toward curbing vehicle-related deaths suffered by waste employees.

Not a moment too soon, either—the latest data indicates that the deaths of sanitation workers reached an all-time high in 2015. The executive director of SWANA (Solid Waste Association of North America), David Biderman, notes that most deaths were due to distracted driving.

"The majority of the incidents are when a worker is behind a truck and a driver is distracted," he says. "Usually, it's a cell phone, but it can also be reaching for a soda or yelling at the kids."

Part of the problem lies with when garbage collection occurs—in the mornings, when visibility is low and commuters are rushing to work or school.

The Solution States Have Turned To

Sixteen states have passed "Slow Down to Get Around" laws since 2009, which require drivers to treat garbage trucks the same as police cars or fire trucks—move a lane over or travel 10 miles per hour slower when passing them. Some of these laws also increase penalties for drivers when they collide with garbage collectors.

States that have passed "Slow Down to Get Around" laws:

  • Michigan
  • Alabama
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Missouri
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

Some state legislatures have shockingly faced some opposition to these laws, despite widespread support among the general population. The main argument? That protective provisions would need to be made for tow truck operators, utility workers, or other high-risk municipal jobs. Biderman believes that's hardly worth discussion when the alternative is endangering lives.

Biderman also notes that he speaks to lawmakers before tragedy occurs. But when a garbage worker is killed, opposition usually dries up: "It's hard for lawmakers to vote against a widow who just lost her husband…Let's not wait for that horrible thing to happen."