When Right Is Wrong

Examining the tragic regularity of right-turn accidents and how to avoid them.

A recent study by Mattei of right-turn accidents involving waste trucks has revealed a disturbing trend. Originally, the study was looking for ways that waste truck drivers could avoid right turn “curb-sneak” accidents. A curb-sneak accident occurs when a waste truck is making a wide right-turn and another vehicle (usually an automobile) attempts to pass the truck on the right, often by using part of the right lane and part of the shoulder of the road.

While the study did indicate a few countermeasures that waste truck drivers can take to avoid curb-sneak accidents, the focus of the study quickly changed as it became clear that right turns were a leading cause of waste trucks striking pedestrians and bicyclists. A search of the news headlines for the past several years confirms this troubling pattern of waste trucks hitting bicyclists and pedestrians while the truck is attempting to make a right turn. The stories are as tragic as they are widespread:

A 59-year-old California man was crossing the street in the crosswalk on a green light when a waste truck making a right turn struck him. The man was dragged under the truck more than 50 feet, and suffered life-altering injuries. A settlement of $3.7 million was reached to compensate the man for his injuries.

A Michigan woman in a wheelchair was killed when a waste truck that was making a right turn on red dragged her. The driver was charged with negligent homicide.

A waste truck in Oregon had just passed a bicyclist who was heading in the same direction on the street. When the truck slowed down to make a sharp right turn the bicyclist ran into to the truck’s rear tires and was crushed to death.

The driver of a waste collection vehicle in Tennessee struck and killed a skateboarder as the truck was making a right turn. The skateboarder was pinned under the truck and dragged more than 100 feet before the driver realized something was wrong.

A Texas waste truck driver was making a right turn when he struck a bicyclist. The bicyclist died from her injuries.

Another Texas man crossing the street in a wheelchair was critically injured when he was run over by a waste truck that was making a right turn.

Emergency workers used airbags and wooden blocks to lift the truck off the injured man.

And in Washington a waste truck driver making a right turn struck a 63-year-old woman in the crosswalk. The driver was cited for failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

Avoiding right-turn accidents with pedestrians, bicyclists and other vehicles requires extra vigilance on the part of the waste truck driver. Some tips for making a safe right turn with a waste truck:

• Signal the intention to turn well in advance of the turn.

• Be aware of any bicyclists passed just prior to the upcoming turn and constantly check the blind spot on the right side of the truck for bicyclists.

• When making a wide right turn, position the vehicle to the outside portion of the lane without leaving enough room for another vehicle to try to pass the truck on the right.

• Check and double check both crosswalks that will be crossed in making a right turn in an intersection.

• Scan low at crosswalks, as children and people in wheelchairs may be more difficult to see.

• If oncoming traffic around the corner is blocking the turning path, wait for that traffic to move, as backing up to complete the turn is extremely dangerous.

Bruce Hooker is risk control director at Mattei, a division of Alteris Insurance Services Inc.

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