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A new survey suggests that although most Americans encounter garbage trucks on the road each week, only a third of people slow down near them while nearly 40 percent are actually tempted to speed around them.

The survey also found that most Americans believe that police officers and firefighters have deadlier jobs despite the fact the waste and recycling collectors have higher fatality rates than these other public service professions, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data.

“Americans need to know that when working around inattentive motorists, collecting waste and recyclables can be dangerous,” said Sharon H. Kneiss, president and chief executive officer of the National Waste & Recycling Association. “Drivers need to slow down to get around garbage trucks.”

Despite the very risky behavior of the general driving public, research shows that they strongly support doing something about the problem. Eighty-five percent agree with the statement: “I am in favor of laws protecting garbage collectors on this country’s roadways.” Once they are informed of the BLS data on fatalities, 90 percent are in favor, with nearly half (48 percent) strongly in favor.

“NWRA is making strides in various states to make these laws a reality. The Association’s Slow Down to Get Around campaign has promoted legislation to protect waste workers in the field,” said Kneiss. “Through education and increased penalties for distracted drivers and careless drivers, the SDTGA movement will make it safer for the industry’s workers to get their jobs done in American communities.”

Additional major findings of the survey include:

  • Less than 1-in-10 (8 percent) Americans believes that garbage collection has the highest fatality rate among the four professions listed. (46 percent selected firefighting, 43 percent chose police work, and 3 percent think paramedic work has the highest fatality rate).
  • Garbage trucks are noticed. Nearly 9-in-10 (88 percent) see garbage trucks on the road at least once a week, and 1-in-6 (16 percent) Americans see garbage trucks on the road every day.
  • Americans are tempted to speed around garbage trucks more than any other kind of service vehicle, with nearly 2 in 5 (38 percent) admitting this. Distant second is a school bus (8 percent), followed by a police car and fire truck (both 3 percent), an ambulance (2 percent), and other service vehicles (8 percent). Men are more likely than women to admit to being tempted to speed around garbage trucks they encounter on the road (42 percent vs. 34 percent, respectively).
  • This disregard extends to slowing down around garbage trucks. Only about 1/3rd (32 percent) of Americans slow down around garbage trucks. Far more Americans hit the brakes around ambulances (77 percent), police cars (76 percent), fire trucks (72 percent), and school buses (69 percent).
  • A majority (85 percent) of Americans are in favor of laws protecting garbage collectors, with one-third (33 percent) strongly agreeing with the statement “I am in favor of laws protecting garbage collectors on this country’s roadways” before being told garbage collection has the highest fatality rate.
  • After they’re told, 90 percent indicated they were in favor of laws protecting garbage collectors, with over 48 percent now strongly agreeing with the statement
    This survey was conducted online within the U.S. by Harris Poll on behalf of the National Waste & Recycling Association in 2014, among 2,012 adults ages 18 and older.

Published in the May 2015 Edition of American Recycler News