Need for Safe Speed

Fast driving, while seemingly full of thrills and freedom, can be potentially dangerous. This is the case for refuse truck collectors who operate large vehicles, meticulously maneuvering through tight spaces and around sharp corners. But, for one day in October, solid waste managers in Arizona allowed their truck drivers to go slightly over the speed limit. Employees put their tactical and speed skills to the test at Allied Waste Services of Yuma's second annual Garbage Truck Rodeo, an obstacle course competition held in the name of safety.

Following the company's first garbage truck rodeo, General Manager Kevin Kelly says that the accident rate at the company decreased by 30 percent. As a result, Allied Waste Services of Yuma decided to hold the competition again this year. Fifty-five drivers signed up to face the obstacle course.

In addition to the Yuma employees, drivers from neighboring cities such as Summerton and San Luis joined the competition. In front loaders, rolloffs and residential trucks, drivers were placed head-to-head on a 60-yard obstacle course to simulate situations that drivers face in the field, including cars, children and narrow streets. “Everything that they do on the course is actually what we do on the streets,” says Robert Diaz, an operations supervisor for Allied Waste Services of Yuma. “The challenge is what we do everyday out here.”

To begin, competitors were required to make a straight shot for 10 yards, and tackle a swerve at the end. Next, they made a 90-degree right turn and approached a container. “While the truck is at the container, we randomly move a cone behind [it] to simulate a person walking behind the truck,” Kelly says. “We see whether the driver's paying attention to what's behind him either through the mirrors or in the backup camera.” Drivers lastly faced what Kelly calls a “serpentine” of cones. The challenge: to wade through the meandering course as fast as possible.

Ruben Galvan, a residential driver for the city of Yuma, was this year's truck rodeo winner, completing the entire course in two minutes and 33 seconds with 100 percent accuracy. He received a trophy with his name engraved on it.

As a result of the garbage truck rodeos, Kelly says the company has intensified its training and safety initiatives, including monitoring truck operations and employee driving, and holding monthly safety meetings. Kelly also says that the company holds weekly “tailgate” meetings with supervisors and drivers to address potential and existing safety issues and to become more aware of situations that could pose problems in the future.

Kelly hopes to attract more participants, such as the Arizona Department of Public Safety, to next year's event to perform safety inspection on the trucks. “I think everybody has a good time, and they get to watch their drivers compete,” Kelly says. “It's fun, and we learn.”