The “slow down to get around”, which went into effect shortly after Gov. Tim Walz signed it in May, wasn’t particularly controversial and has received little attention, overshadowed by the far-reaching hands-free cellphone law taking effect Aug. 1. Even for cautious drivers, it might change the way you approach and get around the next garbage truck you see.

But for those who lobbied for the law — which elevates double-parked garbage, recycling trucks and tow trucks to the status of emergency vehicles when being passed — it shines a light on a deadly problem: garbage haulers getting hit while doing their jobs. “Our garbage guys that are out there all the time, they get hit a lot,” said Peggy Macenas, vice president of the Midwest region of the National Waste and Recycling Association. “We think a lot is distracted driving. You’ve got this huge truck, so you think people would see it. But our guys keep getting hit.”

Macenas didn’t have specific figures for Minnesota, but federal statistics show that waste hauling is one of the more dangerous professions in America. In 2017, the category of “refuse and recyclable material collectors” had the fifth-highest on-the-job fatality rate, behind fishing workers, loggers, pilots and roofers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Macenas said two-thirds of the fatalities of waste haulers are transportation-related nationwide.

Those numbers, as well as moving anecdotes — Macenas tells the story of an Iraq War veteran who lost both legs when a car pinned him against the back of his garbage truck while he was emptying a garbage bin — helped lead to a nationwide lobbying effort by waste haulers. Minnesota now becomes the 29th state to pass a “slow down to get around” law.

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