Circular File: Waste on Wheels

Trucks are the vanguard of our industry, warranting constant scrutiny.

The solid waste industry performs many essential services. Our garbage collection and disposal operations protect the public health and the environment. Our recycling and composting operations provide valuable resource and energy conservation benefits.

Yet when most people think of our industry, they think first about our trucks, because they see them so often. Private and public sector haulers operate almost 140,000 garbage and recycling trucks. Most of them are on the streets five or more days a week regardless of the weather. In many ways, we are a trucking industry more than anything else.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), an agency of the Department of Transportation, and its equivalent state motor carrier agencies are responsible for regulating all commercial motor vehicles, including garbage and recycling trucks. These regulations cover virtually all aspects of operating a truck, from the conditions that can cause a driver or a truck to be placed out-of-service to how many hours in a day a driver can operate a truck. They include the maximum weight of the truck and its cargo, drug and alcohol testing regulations for drivers, and the requirements for getting a commercial drivers license.

FMCSA regulations only cover trucks that cross state lines. In our industry, these trucks operate in multi-state metropolitan areas such as Washington, D.C.; Virginia and Maryland. The states, however, routinely apply the federal regulations to intrastate trucks.

As our understanding of truck safety evolves, trucking companies are facing a number of new regulatory initiatives. Probably the most publicized is the ban on texting while driving. Recently, FMCSA proposed a ban on texting by commercial truck drivers. It should come as no surprise that NSWMA strongly supported the proposal.

And the ban shouldn't apply just to truck drivers! One of the most serious safety threats faced by our workers happens when a truck is stopped on the street and the driver or the crew are out of the truck collecting garbage or recyclables. Every year, about half a dozen of our workers are killed by clueless car drivers who can't be bothered to slow down before going around a stopped garbage truck. With the rise of cell phones, this problem is only getting worse. This is why NSWMA and its members have an active public information campaign “Slow Down to Get Around” to help protect our workers. You can find more information about this program on our website,

Right now, our biggest regulatory challenge is FMCSA's new Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 (CSA 2010) initiative. This is a new safety data management and analysis effort that is intended to allow truck safety regulators to more easily target companies and drivers with a bad safety record. CSA 2010 measures safety performance in seven different categories based on the results of out-of-service inspections and crash incidents. High-scoring companies and drivers will be identified for further action.

CSA 2010 creates unique challenges for our industry. For a start, companies need to ensure that data in the new system is accurate in regard to inspection results and any crash incidents. Then they need to see if they score highly in any of the seven categories. The “cargo-related” category will be particularly challenging for haulers because of the number of points the rating system assigns to overweight trucks. CSA 2010 goes into effect nationwide on Nov. 30. Be prepared!

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Chaz Miller is state programs director for the Environmental Industry Associations, Washington, D.C.

Opinions in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the National Solid Wastes Management Association or the Environmental Industry Associations. E-mail the author at