Preventing accidents involving garbage trucks and pedestrians is a daily challenge given the arduous working conditions of waste collection. By equipping trucks and drivers with the latest tools and technologies, you can go a long way towards making our streets safer for everyone.

By John Knox and Martin Demers

Garbage trucks are everywhere on our streets performing essential services for our communities every day of the week. Because of this prolific activity, garbage trucks are at higher risk of both fault and no-fault accidents. Many of these accidents are “struck by” accidents where pedestrians are struck by moving waste collection vehicles.

Studies show that garbage trucks pose a greater danger to pedestrians and bicyclists than any other vehicle on the road. Indeed, they pose substantial danger to not only pedestrians, but also car passengers, cyclists and other waste-related workers. According to “Right of Way”, a pedestrian safety group, garbage trucks are responsible for more pedestrian and cyclist fatalities per 100 million miles than any other type of vehicle.


The reasons for this are multitude. First and foremost, the sheer numbers of garbage trucks on our streets every day create higher opportunities for accident risk. In addition, garbage truck drivers often need to operate in tight streets and in high density areas, make sudden moves and difficult maneuvers, compensate for blind spots, work around items blocking their visibility, must be mindful of distracted pedestrians, and operate heavy machinery that needs to be properly maintained for optimal performance and safety.

With all the risks and demanding working conditions, it is no wonder that waste fleet managers think about safety above all else and are constantly looking for ways to improve it. To follow are five ways to help optimize pedestrian safety.

#1: Eliminate Key Blind Spots

Mitigating blind spots is critical for reducing risks and improving safety. If you cannot see pedestrians and cyclists, you cannot avoid them. Because of their size and construction, garbage trucks have peripheral visibility limitations, which result in sizable blind areas, particularly when backing up. So, the first obvious step is to reduce these blind spots.

Mirrors—and their more effective use—need to be considered as a first step. For example, the use of smaller mirrors and adjustments to their placement can enhance driver visibility. Also, newer wide angle convex mirrors provide a 25 percent gain in viewing area versus conventional convex mirrors.

But mirrors are just one part of a blind spot elimination strategy. Backup sensors can also help eliminate blind spots to the rear of the truck. Backup sensors come in various configurations, including:

Ultrasonic echo location backup sensors that use sonar technology are activated when the driver engages reverse gear to warn of potential obstacles. The audio pulse intensity increases and the audio frequency changes as the vehicle backs closer to the obstacle. As with all sensing systems, there are blind areas in the sensing patterns due to the cone or triangular nature in the way the sonar pulse is emitted. Whenever an object moves from a covered area into one of these blind areas, a special warning alert message and tone are typically transmitted. This is especially helpful for detecting moving objects such as a pedestrian, an animal, or other moving vehicles that may be behind your vehicle and in harm’s way.

Wireless backup sensors usually come with multiple sensors mounted to the back of the vehicle, which connect to a control box set inside or outside of the vehicle. The control box connects wirelessly to a display, which is placed inside the front of the vehicle, warning drivers both visually and audibly of hazards behind their vehicles.

Microwave blind spot sensor systems provide visual and aural alerts when an object enters the blind spots to the side of the vehicle. While there will always be visual alerts, audio warnings will only trigger if the turn signals are on. This helps to improve overall safety and increases driver confidence.

#2: Ensure All-around Vehicle Visibility

In addition to optimizing mirror usage and employing back up sensors, having eyes all around a garbage truck is the best way to avoid accidents. This is particularly important when it comes to distracted pedestrians, pets and children. Children can be particularly at risk as they can often be oblivious to the fact that a garbage truck may not always see them.

Round-the-truck camera systems can now provide the kind of 360-degree visibility required for unprecedented insights into and all around a refuse vehicle. A Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) study on camera systems revealed that wide-angle side view cameras could eliminate 100 percent of blind zones on the left and right sides of a vehicle, and camera systems also provided better visibility in dark conditions or inclement weather than just mirror solutions. In addition, a driver survey indicated that a camera-based system provided an image that is easier for drivers to follow. Specifically, FDOT found a 45 to 63 percent improvement in driver visibility using camera-based systems, and that 75 percent of drivers found the images on the camera monitor simpler and are faster to process.

Waste fleet camera systems can come with up to eight cameras installed on a truck to provide a more comprehensive view of incidents and service data, which are automatically recorded by in-cab smart displays. These cameras can all record simultaneously and usually have continuous recording capabilities so that all activity can be logged. The cameras can take pictures and capture real-time video footage of all internal and external activities from all angles. Split screen displays typically provide a bird’s eye view, plus front, side or rear views according to operational requirements.

Fleet managers can also view driver and truck activities from every angle, identify any driver-related safety issues for rapid remediation, and capture evidence for accident and dispute resolution. Additionally, these cameras can vastly improve operations by tracking bins, monitoring the lift’s safe use and recording any contamination status.

#3: Keep Trucks in Optimal, Safe Working Order

Faulty or malfunctioning garbage trucks can pose safety risks to both pedestrians and waste collection workers. Therefore, a comprehensive safety program also needs an effective preventative maintenance component. This should consider manufacturers’ guidelines and recommendations for ongoing maintenance and care, maintenance personnel who are appropriately qualified and trained, and up-to-date and real-time vehicle diagnostics for rapid remediation.

Onboard computing (OBC) devices and software analytics can ensure an immediate communication and diagnosis of the vehicle’s condition for both preventative and ongoing maintenance. These OBC solutions provide drivers and back-office systems users with unprecedented data about a truck’s diagnostics, vehicular telemetry, driver activities and other information vital to optimizing vehicle safety and productivity.

Onboard systems can further flag vehicle issues to ensure the vehicle is properly maintained and running correctly. Both drivers and fleet managers are assured of immediate ECM-related alarms to flag any issues for repair and maintenance. Drivers are safer and vehicles perform better.

#4: Keep Safety Top-of-mind for Drivers

A truck can have all the safety enhancements and technologies available on the market, and still be unsafe if a driver is distracted or reckless. As a result, ensuring safe drivers comes down to two critical needs: 1) the need to seriously reduce the potential for driver distractions and 2) the need to immediately identify and remediate unsafe driving behavior. Fortunately, there are tools available to help.

Connected Smart Displays

Connected smart displays typically provide a single point of interface for the driver, truck, back office and all communications. A touch screen display allows for real-time video and audio functionality, and flexible interfaces ensure easy interaction with the control system. These onboard systems typically provide real-time feedback to drivers on any performance thresholds (speeding, idling, hard-braking etc.) so that they can modify their behavior before alerts are sent to the back office. This takes the guesswork out of driving.

Safety Dashboards

Safety dashboards are typically Web portals that provide live video feed, archived video and picture views into fleet, driver and collection services activity. Fleet managers, taking advantage of DVR functionalities, benefit from an intuitive back-office view into what is going on for each route, truck and driver. With advanced safety dashboards, fleet managers can track incidents, alarms, driver scoring, video streaming and playback. This enables them to spot costly and unsafe driver maneuvers, know how their vehicles are being handled, plot location of alarm occurrences, access recorded incidents, determine which drivers generated alarms and where, and replay selected vehicles, surroundings and driver’s activities.

Driver Direction Apps

Driver direction tools provide directions to a driver’s designated next stop and can also automatically re-calculate routes when required.  Subsequent locations do not need to be entered by the driver. Ongoing route locations and directions are based on the driver’s schedule and are provided audibly and automatically. Drivers are easily directed to their next location with little to no distraction.

Driver Scoring and Monitoring

Of all the standard fleet safety components, driver monitoring and the ability to easily score driver behavior are of utmost importance. Automatic and real-time access to driver scoring results provides the information required to give constructive feedback to drivers, reward safe driving behavior and provide the requisite coaching for any unsafe activity. Driver activity can be monitored easily and immediately, and accurate data can be readily captured to deal with any driving incidents. Real-time driver scoring provides fleet managers with a score based on specific corporate criteria, such as maximum speed limits. All drivers are subject to speeding occasionally; however, at-risk behavior such as repeated speeding and hard-braking violations need to be tracked and flagged automatically.

#5: Maximize Pedestrian Alerts

We live in an era of digital distractions and information overload. Ninety percent of millennials report they sleep with their Smartphone. Nomophobia is the fear of being without your mobile phone and 66 percent of us report this phobia according to a 2012 UK study. Pedestrians who are on their devices, and often wearing headphones, can have impaired situational awareness and unintentionally put themselves into harm’s way. Loud horns may not be enough to capture critical attention. In these cases, strobe lights can provide visual alerts to gain attention of nearby passersby. The optical design of new specialty strobe lights can offer up to four times more down angle light, which enhances truck visibility to motorists and pedestrians.

In Closing

Preventing accidents involving garbage trucks and pedestrians is a daily challenge given the arduous working conditions of waste collection. There are many elements, both human and mechanical, to consider in order to optimize pedestrian safety. The good news is that by equipping trucks and drivers with the latest tools and technologies, you can go a long way towards making our streets safer for everyone.

John Knox is President and CEO of Safe Fleet (Belton, MO), a family of best-in-class companies dedicated to becoming a leading global provider of safety solutions for fleet vehicles. These brands serve numerous markets including: emergency services, bus and rail, RV, truck and trailer, work truck, waste, military and industrial. John can be reached at

Martin Demers leads FleetMind Solutions (Montreal, QC), a Safe Fleet brand company, as its Vice President. Under his leadership, FleetMind has grown into the leading onboard computing (OBC) solutions provider for waste and recycling fleets. He has often been published in industry publications and is a frequent speaker at technology and waste management events. Martin can be reached at