Trash trucks and the concern over public safety

Quimby Mug Bayou Florida Headshot
Updated Mar 25, 2016

It was interesting writing this week about a surge in cameras for trash trucks in the cities around Tampa Bay.

St. Petersburg, Tampa and Clearwater have all been placing more cameras in their waste haulers because of an increasing trend in accidents.

It’s thought that the cameras will provide video lessons in driver safety, and yes, the idea that your driving habits are being recorded will probably keep you on your best behavior.

A lot of the accidents, however, are not the fault of trash truck drivers. A video released by the City of Tampa clearly shows a civilian vehicle running a red light straight into the path of one of its garbage trucks. One camera inside the truck’s cab provides a view of the driver, while another provides a shot of the road ahead.

So far, city union leaders have embraced the idea. Increased public pressure may play a role in that decision. Residents around Tampa Bay have continued to express concern about the increase in collisions involving garbage trucks, with some saying that drivers who are given the chance to go home after finishing their route are driving too fast just so that they can clock-out.

Other than that, no other explanations are given for the increased wrecks. It’s not clear if the majority of accidents happen in the early morning while people are scrambling for work. It’s not clear if distracted driving, or drugs or alcohol plays a role with any of the drivers, whether they’re behind the wheel of a trash truck or private vehicle.

One thing’s for sure: the cities that comprise the region known as Tampa Bay are continuing to grow.  The population for 2015 was reported by at around 4.4 million. That’s not surprising, considering that in December the U.S. Census Bureau listed Florida as the second-fastest growing state in the nation, just behind Texas.

With a population of around 22 million people and growing, Florida has more people and trash than ever.

While postal and package delivery trucks make their way regularly through neighborhoods, it’s rare that any of these trucks compares in size and weight to a typical trash truck.

I’m impressed with our local refuse haulers. They make it look easy as they negotiate their way through small residential streets lined with parked vehicles. Other trucks of this size and weight are usually out on highways and not having to bob and weave on a daily basis through crowded city streets.

In short, increased population density, plus greater exposure to various traffic patterns plus a 20 to 32-ton trash truck equals, more than likely, a greater chance for accidents. And given the heavy weight of a trash truck, when it does collide with another object, it’s probably going to be pretty serious and costly. In fact, it was the growing pay-outs that Tampa Bay cities have been making over increased trash truck accidents that proved to be a primary reason for the increased camera push.

Will the cameras do any good at limiting these crashes? Again, if Big Brother is constantly vigilant, then the likelihood for accidents will probably drop. The City of Clearwater, according to the Tampa Bay Times, reported that their camera-equipped trucks have had no accidents.

However, having watchful Big Brother as an accident deterrent may stress and annoy some drivers whose driving habits have never been called into question.

Thankfully, to take some of the edge off of being constantly under an unblinking eye, city leaders are talking about implementing a reward program for drivers who demonstrate safe driving habits.

Admittedly, I’m sympathetic towards anyone who’s got a camera on them as they carry out their daily work. Words like distrust and disdain come to mind. However, the cameras can provide evidence which can prove if a driver is at fault or not for an accident.

So, while increased vigilance may help, what I’m really surprised at is the absence of technology from this crash-heavy conversation.

Just last week, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration announced an unprecedented commitment from automakers in the U.S. market who have agreed to make automatic emergency braking (AEB) standard on their light vehicles by 2022.

“AEB will become standard on virtually all light-duty cars and trucks with a gross vehicle weight of 8,500 lbs. or less beginning no later than Sept. 1, 2022. AEB will be standard on virtually all trucks with a gross vehicle weight between 8,501 lbs. and 10,000 lbs. beginning no later than Sept. 1, 2025,” NHTSA reports in its press release.

While there’s no schedule for AEB implementation mentioned for a 20 to 32-ton truck, perhaps an innovator will grab the wheel and start steering in that direction fast. Perception is everything. AEB and other accident preventive technology is good PR at a time when the public is shaking its fist at trash trucks. Even if the video shows that it’s not the fault of the truck driver, it’s still hard to get past the damage that a large truck can inflict.

HWT Related: Increased accidents: Trash trucks around Tampa Bay get more cameras

HWT Related: OEMs commit to automatic emergency braking by 2022