Good drivers are NO ACCIDENT

Law enforcement officers and garbage truck drivers are similar in one important way: Both are given dangerous weapons to perform their jobs. While police receive guns and cars, refuse truck drivers are handed the keys to 20-ton trucks to drive around communities every day.

In a profession where few mistakes are tolerated, especially with dangerous weapons, most police officers receive more than 50 hours of general training annually to maintain their professional skills. The good habits or skills officers learn through repetitive training can mean the difference between life and death when faced with stressful situations.

Drivers in the solid waste profession must be trained for the same reasons. They work 40 to 50 hours per week driving expensive 50,000-pound trucks, for about 260 days or more than 2,100 hours per year.

Similar to a police officer, a truck driver faces repetitive tasks every day. In the refuse industry, most professional drivers travel the same route on the same roads each week, usually making the same pick ups. The weather, traffic, and/or the driver's mental and physical condition are factors that could negatively affect his or her ability to operate the truck.

The use of potentially dangerous equipment to perform repetitive daily tasks illustrates why training refuse truck drivers is just as important as adequately preparing police officers for their jobs. When drivers are faced with stressful situations they should be able to resort to their training to react properly and effectively. And, safe driving practices and defensive driving training reinforce the proper decisions professional drivers need to make throughout the day.

How Human Factors Affect Decisions

Human factors, such as a driver's fatigue and physical fitness as well as distractions and aggressive driving behavior, affect his or her ability to drive. Fatigue-related incidents are more severe because of the driver's impaired ability to avoid the problem coupled with the uncontrolled speed of the truck.

Distractions, on the other hand, jeopardize a driver's ability to see, analyze and react to sudden changes on the road. Of course, aggressive driving also is dangerous, especially when the driver becomes irrational, starts to take things personally and loses objectivity. Unfortunately, that behavior can lead to unlawful acts and even traffic collisions.

While professional drivers know how to drive trucks, training that shows how human factors and mental preparedness affect performance ultimately reinforces the importance of driving safely. Proper training also focuses on the waste industry's most common accidents and those with the largest losses.

Most Common Accidents

Backing accidents are the most common types of traffic accidents in the waste industry. Most importantly, drivers must anticipate the hazards involved in backing up the truck and know how to safely control them. For example, moving forward, backward or steering to the left or right from a stopped position can create an unexpected hazard for both the driver and pedestrian, a fixed object or other motor vehicle either parked or in motion.

To reinforce those preventative measures, drivers should view videos of potential accidents then discuss the driver's actions prior to, during and after the incident. That type of training helps the professional driver make the right decisions at critical moments.

Intersection accidents cause the largest loss per incident and can be caused by several factors. Professional drivers usually can control their actions when approaching an intersection; it is equally important, however, to anticipate other drivers' actions to prevent intersection accidents.

When arriving at an intersection, the driver must consider the phasing of the signals, the multiple lanes within the intersection, his vehicle's speed as well as the speed of other vehicles approaching the intersection and the distance available to stop the truck. In addition, when involved in a collision, the driver must become aware of the injuries and the possible loss of life.

Other important topics that should be discussed in professional driver training courses include the adverse effects of weather conditions and vehicle speed, and driver and pedestrian safety in traffic. While professional drivers face a variety of conditions throughout the day, to help prevent accidents, it is critically important to anticipate those ever-changing factors.

Thanks to the efforts of private companies and several professional organizations, professional truck driver training is paying off. The fatal crash rate for large trucks has fallen to the lowest level in history, according to the Federal Highway Administration, even though the number of miles driven by trucks increased to 226.5 billion last year from 215.9 billion in 2003. By 2004, the fatal crash rate had fallen from 2.01 per million miles in 2003 to 1.96 per million miles. Analysts have credited the lowered fatal crash rate to better driver training and improved highway design and vehicle engineering.

Even in the face of such progress, the importance of annual truck driver training cannot be overstated. Continual training teaches professional drivers the importance of safe driving practices and reminds them that the goal is to lower the loss of property and ultimately loss of life. The waste industry's owners, managers and supervisors must provide defensive driver training that is current and will improve the professional driver's knowledge and heightened awareness in preventing traffic collisions.

Remember, safety is about people and saving lives. Being mentally and physically prepared is 90 percent of the professional driver's job.

Dennis Maisano is vice president of Safety Research Consultants, Irvine, Calif.

Want to Hear More on this Subject?

The author of this article will be a speaker in the “Defensive Driving Techniques” session at WasteExpo on Thursday, April 6. The workshop will run from 1:45 p.m. to 5 p.m.