Be (More) Careful Out There

Lane change and sideswipe accidents occur frequently in the waste industry. As with other large commercial vehicles, the sheer size of a refuse truck creates significant blind spots, which can lead to accidents.

Collection operations, particularly those for residential properties, involve trucks constantly having to pull to the side of the road and then merge back into the flow of traffic. This frequent merging requires a driver to stay focused, or a sideswipe accident could occur.

Most lane change accidents occur on highways or streets with multiple lanes of traffic. All too often, waste truck drivers do not see other vehicles in their left or right blind spots. This indicates that drivers need to do a better job of making sure their mirrors are clean and adjusted properly. They also need to check mirrors more frequently and shift position in their seats to get a better view of blind spots. Drivers should also be aware of other motorists two lanes over who may be trying to merge into the same empty lane of traffic.

Many sideswipe accidents occur when a waste collection vehicle pulls to the side of the road to pick up refuse and then pulls out into the path of a passing vehicle. These accidents are frequently the result of inadequate or improperly adjusted side-view mirrors, and the problem seems to be worse for right-drive vehicles. An analysis of these types of accidents also shows that drivers are not being vigilant enough in the use of their mirrors before pulling from the curb.

Another common type of accident (not usually the fault of the waste truck driver) is the “curb sneak.” Not realizing that a waste collection vehicle makes wide right turns, impatient motorists will try to pass the truck on the right shoulder or unused portion of the right lane. Waste vehicle drivers need to be aware of the potential for this type of accident and clearly signal their intention to turn right well in advance of the turn.

To significantly reduce the risk of lane change and sideswipe accidents, fleets should take the following precautions:

  • Establish a written company policy regarding the prevention of those types of accidents.

  • Create a program of clandestine driver observations and/or supervisor ride-alongs with drivers to make sure that safety policies are being followed.

  • Have safety meetings for all current drivers and establish training sessions for all new drivers to make sure that they are familiar with the company policies on preventing lane change and sideswipe accidents, including how to properly adjust one's mirrors. Because of the importance of this issue, a safety meeting on this topic should be held at least once a year.

  • Frequently remind drivers of the importance of preventing lane change and sideswipe accidents. This can be accomplished with bulletin board messages, paycheck stuffers, reminders during regular driver safety meetings and periodic announcements over the radio.

  • Make sure that all vehicles have adequate side-view and spot mirrors, and that drivers are keeping their mirrors clean. Remind drivers that mirrors must be checked during their daily pre- and post-trip inspections, and that broken or missing mirrors must be reported in writing.

  • Strictly prohibit “zig-zagging” (collecting refuse from both sides of a two-way street by pulling back and forth from the right side of the road to the left side of the road).

  • Install extended vision, oversize convex mirrors or side-vision cameras on the left side of right-drive refuse collection trucks.

  • And, finally, make safety performance and compliance with safety policies part of a driver's performance review and part of any incentive or bonus programs.

Bruce A. Hooker R.F. Matei & Associates of CA Insurance Services Sacramento, Calif.