While any accident involving a waste truck is cause for concern, those accidents where pedestrians or bicyclists are involved are especially disturbing. When a waste truck collides with another vehicle, the occupants in that vehicle are protected by the steel frame of the vehicle and often by airbags as well. But when a waste truck makes contact with a pedestrian or bicyclist, the result is frequently serious injury or death. To make matters worse, these types of accidents often involve children or the elderly. In most cases, accidents involving pedestrians or bicyclists are likely to receive coverage in the press, which can significantly tarnish a waste company's public image.
Backing is the leading cause of motor vehicle accidents in the waste industry, so it is no surprise that many pedestrian and bicyclist collisions occur while a waste truck is traveling in reverse. Unlike stationary objects (parked cars, poles, hydrants, etc.) that are visible to the waste truck driver prior to backing, pedestrians and bicyclists frequently enter the “danger zone” after the driver has begun moving. While a backing alarm (beeper) is supposed to alert pedestrians and bicyclists to the presence of a backing truck, the sound is often ignored or not heard because the person is wearing headphones. Many of these types of accidents involve trucks that had fully functional backing alarms. Thus, drivers must use every tool available (mirrors, spotters, backing camera, reflections, shadows and radar) to spot pedestrians and bicyclists entering their backing path.
Situations where the waste truck is making a right turn at an intersection also result in many accidents with pedestrians and bicyclists. Pedestrians in the crosswalk often are not paying attention to turning traffic, so a waste truck driver must use extra caution in yielding the right of way to them. Bicyclists frequently sneak up the right side of the traffic lane or ride up on the right sidewalk toward the intersection, putting them in the waste truck driver's right-hand blind spot. Thus it is prudent to keep an eye out for bicyclists before reaching the intersection and crucial before beginning any right turns.
When the waste truck enters a transfer station or a landfill, there is always significant pedestrian exposure. In addition to watching out for employees of the transfer station or landfill, a waste truck driver needs to be aware that other drivers may be getting out of their trucks to dump their loads. Drivers should pay extra attention to pedestrian hazards at transfer stations or landfills that allow the general public or small contractors to dump, as these persons may not be as familiar with the safety rules and may be more unpredictable in their actions.
Finally, all waste truck drivers need to use extra caution in any environment where children are present or may be present. Younger children often are fascinated with waste collection trucks and have been known to chase after them. Children frequently chase balls, other toys or pets into the street, and often fail to look for oncoming traffic. Children on bicycles can be unpredictable in their actions, as they are frequently unfamiliar with traffic laws.
The presence of pedestrians and bicyclists has always presented a substantial hazard for waste truck drivers. In today's world of technology, where pedestrians and bicyclists are often distracted by cell phones, PDAs and MP3 players, the waste truck driver needs to be even more vigilant than ever.
Bruce Hooker works for Mattei Insurance Services, Inc. based in Sacramento, Calif.