I was planning on writing an upbeat “Back to School” column this month, in which I would urge solid waste collection workers, particularly drivers, to watch out for children at bus stops and walking to their neighborhood schools. Kids are curious about garbage trucks and can behave unpredictably, and a reminder about keeping an eye out for them is always warranted.
But then there were two fatal accidents involving garbage trucks in New York City in a single week.
In the first incident, which took place in Brooklyn, an allegedly intoxicated motorist, who reportedly did not possess a valid driver’s license, drove into a garbage truck at upwards of 70 miles per hour. The vehicle hit the truck so hard that the truck turned over, killing a passenger in the vehicle. The motorist has been charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. In the second incident, in Manhattan, a pedestrian was killed when she was struck by a garbage truck. According to the company involved in this tragic accident, the woman was illegally crossing the street against a red light. There have been several other fatal accidents this year involving our industry in New York City, including a taxi driver and passenger being killed in a collision with a garbage truck on the Long Island Expressway in Queens.
It does not appear that the driver of the garbage trucks involved in any of these incidents was at fault. However, these fatalities and other similar incidents in New York City make me wonder if there are any operational or regulatory factors contributing to this uptick in these accidents. Based on my conversations with several carters in New York City, there are several potentially contributing factors.
First, as has been widely reported, there has been an epidemic of cardboard theft in New York City during the past year. People with vans are picking up loose and baled cardboard left out by customers. In response, some carters have adjusted their collection schedules to try to get to the customer before the cardboard thieves. This probably isn’t good for safety.
Second, despite the rising cost of operations, the city’s rate cap has not changed for years, forcing many carters to operate on narrower margins. Unfortunately, at some companies, this may mean less devotion to safety.
Third, the proliferation of new carters and low insurance requirements means a highly competitive waste services market. Competition is a healthy thing, but not at the expense of worker and third-party safety.
The city’s reaction to these accidents often is to conduct an enforcement blitz against the licensed carters, which usually results in dozens of tickets being written in a single night. It probably would be more helpful if city officials took a step back and examined how the cardboard theft epidemic, lack of action on the rate cap and low insurance requirements may be contributing to these incidents. Let me be clear: it does not appear the driver of the truck was at fault in either fatal accident last month. But in both incidents, someone died and a truck was damaged. Insurance claims will be filed, and lawyers have been consulted.
Such incidents should remind anyone with an interest in such matters not to let their guard down when it comes to protecting their drivers, their trucks and others on the road. For example, tell your drivers to keep an eye out for the kids at the bus stop. The sun rises later each day during the Fall and most of the kids are not wearing high-viz clothing.