- Associated Press - Sunday, April 19, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Two years after Mark Friend lost part of his left leg when a car pinned him to his garbage truck, the former trash collector is frustrated to hear of such accidents still regularly occurring.

Friend served as the inspiration for a 2013 Wisconsin law that doubled the fines for drivers caught speeding around stopped garbage trucks, but he doesn’t think it’s being enforced or that sufficient efforts have been made to inform the public of the dangers. He said since his near-fatal accident, his employer, John’s Disposal in Whitewater, has reported four instances in which cars crashed into stopped garbage trucks or hit workers. The company did not immediately respond for a request to confirm.

“Have not enough people been killed? Why do so many people have to die for something to get done about it? It drives me absolutely crazy,” said Friend, of Ixonia.

The state Department of Transportation does not keep track of incidents specific to waste-hauling vehicles. Drivers found violating the law may face fines of up to $600 on a first offense. Alabama, Florida, Michigan and West Virginia also have laws enhancing penalties for not slowing down around stopped garbage trucks.

But in a survey last month, the National Waste & Recycling Association found that less than a third of Americans slow down around garbage trucks, far less than those who said they brake for emergency vehicles and school buses.

The 2013 bill’s sponsor, Rep. John Jagler, shares Friend’s frustration and has criticized the association and other waste management companies, saying they haven’t been actively promoting the law.

“It just irritated me to no end,” the Watertown Republican said. “You have the opportunity to reach people and you’re not doing it.”

Sharon Kneiss, president and CEO of the National Waste & Recycling Association, said in a statement that the organization has promoted the campaign on social media, but was still working to make signs available for waste hauling trucks.

“If they’re out on social media saying something about it, I haven’t seen it,” Jagler said, adding that few trucks display the signs. “They’re either not doing it well enough or not investing enough funds to make it work.”

Waste hauling company Advanced Disposal, based in Ponte Vedra, Florida, has ramped up its social media campaign and has sent inserts with information about the “Slow Down to Get Around” campaign with more than 70,000 invoices for Wisconsin locations that span across the state since September, spokeswoman Mary Middleton O’Brien said.

In some cities, local governments handle bills from Advanced Disposal, so not all customers would see the inserts, but that more than 35,000 people since September have viewed the company’s local webpages, where it promotes the law.

And in the last eight months, the company has not reported an incident of workers being hit by drivers, she said. “It certainly appears drivers are paying more attention,” O’Brien said.

Friend was emptying garbage bins into his truck when a car slammed into him, pinning him between the two vehicles. He was airlifted to a hospital in Madison.

He said he’d like to see the association create a television commercial like those aimed at reducing texting while driving and speeding in construction zones.

“Nobody thinks about it like that (man) could be their uncle or their brother, they just think about how they have all these places to get to in a hurry,” Friend said. “We have to pound that into people’s heads.”

Jagler said people have called him saying they continue to see drivers racing past garbage trucks, in some cases when the trucks have “Slow Down to Get Around” signs. Jagler said he and Friend feel disheartened by the lack of response to the law.

“Mark is wondering if we went through the whole legislative process in vain,” Jagler said, “and, frankly, it seems like we have.”


Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bydanaferguson

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