It’s safety first.
In fact, for the Bi-County Solid Waste Department—which services Clarksville and Montgomery counties in Tennessee—it's safety on the last Thursday of every month. That’s when Mark Neblett, assistant director of compliance, safety and training, holds safety training for solid waste employees. Whether that’s in the form of videos or meetings, the topics have ranged from blood-borne pathogens to landfill fires and hot loads.
This month, the topic was impaired and distracted drivers. Drunk driving, speeding and distractions are listed among the top causes of automobile accidents. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 28 people die every day in the United States in motor vehicle crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver. That’s one death every 51 minutes. The annual cost of alcohol-related crashes totals more than $44 billion. The CDC also says distracted driving—doing another activity that takes your attention away from driving—kills approximately nine people each day in the U.S. and injures more than 1,000 others.
This month, the Clarksville-Montgomery County Traffic Safety Task Force spent a few hours on site at the Bi-County Solid Waste Management facilities greeting drivers as they returned from routes, handing out educational information and introducing them to the learning stations that help them understand the dangers of impaired and distracted driving.
Nearly 50 solid waste employees experienced for themselves how driving while impaired can change the way a driver sees the road. Drivers wore special goggles provided by the county’s safe driver program and navigated an obstacle course while driving a golf cart. The goggles mimicked how a driver sees the road and surroundings after various amounts of alcohol are consumed.
“The guys got a kick out of watching other guys try to get through,” says Neblett.
He added that it also helped the team to know what other drivers might be doing and seeing when driging while impaired and help them to drive defensively.
At another station, the sheriff’s office set up a virtual reality simulator inside a patrol car. Employees wore virtual reality goggles as they drove the simulator.
Drivers go through the driving motions stepping on the gas, turning the wheel and hitting the brakes, Neblett says. Even for him, the results were eye opening.
“I hit a guy. I think he was jaywalking, because he came out of nowhere,” he says. “But I ran him over.”
In fact, the driver often ended up hitting another vehicle or a person or crashing in some way, he says. The simulator’s screen goes to a broken windshield when that happens, before starting again.
Employees also played a game of corn hole, while wearing the “drunk goggles.”
“You see two or three holes instead of just one. You end up throwing (the bag) up over the wall or eight to 10 feet left or right of the board,” Neblett says.
The education event was very well received by employees, says Executive Director of Bi-County Solid Waste Management David Graham.
“This time it wasn’t learned about landfills. It was about life,” Graham says.
Some supervisors may worry about having enough times for something like this, says Neblett, but it was active and done in stations and drivers were able to get their work done and participate as they came back to the facility.
In the future, Neblett hopes to have the employees do another hands-on education event with the sheriff’s office about the effects of texting and driving.