One of the most dangerous and necessary industries in the country is recycling and refuse. Waste truck drivers and helpers constantly have to worry about customers putting hazardous materials in curbside bins. They deal with large equipment that have the potential to cause serious injury if misused. And then they are subject to the negligent actions of other drivers on the road, who are often impatient to get around a stopped truck or are just not paying enough attention due to digital distractions.
The State of Oklahoma wants to help minimize the danger for workers by adding a new law to the books. Effective November 1st, all motorists must either move a full lane over or slow down when passing a waste vehicle stopped on the side of the road. Nicknamed the Slow Down to Get Around Law, it is a variation of the current move over statute, which has required drivers to do the same thing for law enforcement, emergency responders, and tow trucks for several years.
This legislation, also known as HB 2449, was sponsored by State Representative Terry O’Donnell (R-Catoosa) and State Senator Don Barrington (R-Lawton) with input from the National Waste and Recycling Association.
Oklahoma is one of the largest states for refuse collection in the country. According to NWRA data, the sector employs over 4,500 people and contributes over $679 million annually to the state’ economy.
“This law is about the safety of refuse and recycling collectors who serve our communities statewide,” NWRA Oklahoma chapter chair Dean Matts said in a recent press release from the organization. “Now Oklahoma residents must slow down to get around waste and recycling vehicles—saving the lives and preventing injuries. Our focus now turns to raising awareness and educating the public of the dangers collectors face and urging them to take caution around these vehicles.”
“Saving lives, preventing on-the-job injuries, and making the roads in our communities safer is our top priority,” commented Kevin Kraushaar, NWRA vice president of government affairs and chapter operations, via the same press release. “This legislation is a key component of our multi-pronged efforts to make our industry safer, smarter, and stronger.”
And companies in the region are echoing this sentiment. “Our employees put everything they have into what they do,” said Paul M. Ross, Vice President of American Waste Control in Tulsa. “I applaud the efforts of our legislators and governor for signing into law something that puts the focus where it should be—on the people that serve this state faithfully.”
Large Fines and Change of Habits
Ramifications for motorists who ignore the new law are slated to be hefty—a fine of up to $2,000 and prison time of up to six months. If a resident causes an accident due to texting and driving, the penalties could also be stacked to make the punishment even more severe. But this number falls directly in line with the risk associated with having an at-fault collision with a garbage truck.
“When you think about the overall cost of a garbage truck and the safety of our employees, this is a nominal figure,” commented Ross. “A single waste vehicle can cost up to $350,000, but the health of our employees is worth so much more than that.”
In addition to keeping workers safe, the new fines are also meant as a financial protection mechanism for motorists. In Oklahoma, the minimum property damage liability on a personal auto insurance policy is only a meager $25,000, with the same limit for bodily injury. That means if a resident has a significant accident with a garbage truck that injures a worker, they could be in for a large financial loss that is potentially not covered by their insurance company.
By having this legislation in place, motorists are forced to pay more attention to their driving, which helps prevent an incident from ever occurring.
“This is about changing habits of the general public,” continues Ross. “If we can keep even one person from causing an accident, then it is a success.”
Oklahoma Isn’t the Only State Protecting Waste Workers
This new law isn’t the only one to come about to protect waste workers nationwide. Several other states—including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin and West Virginia—have all enacted similar laws within the past couple of years with much success.
“My biggest focus is always about taking care of our people,” explains Ross. “When I see that at the end of the day that each one of our employees gets to go home safe and sound to their families, I know that we’ve met what we set out to do. This new law only helps us meet that goal.”
HB 2449 was signed into law by Governor Mary Fallin on April 26, 2016.