ST. PAUL — When you see a garbage or recycling truck double-parked with flashing lights, treat it with the same respect you would a police car or fire truck: slow down, and pass only if it’s safe and with as much room as you can.

It’s the law now in Minnesota.

Known as “slow down to get around,” the new law, which actually 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.

What the law says

Under the new law: If you approach a garbage truck, recycling truck or tow truck that is stopped or parked in a traffic lane or next to a traffic lane and has its hazard or warning lights flashing, you must give that truck as much leeway as possible before you pass it.

Examples:

  • If there are enough lanes in the same direction, you must leave an entire vacant lane between your car and the truck.

  • If there are only two lanes in each direction, you can pass the truck only if you’re fully in the other lane.

  • If there’s only one lane, or if it’s not possible to change lanes safely, you must slow down to a “reasonable and prudent” speed before passing the truck — and you cannot speed up until your entire vehicle has fully cleared the entire truck.

If police see you failing to do any of these, they can pull you over and write a ticket.

These are the same standards that have applied for ambulance, police, fire and other emergency vehicles for years.

Macenas says the goal isn’t tickets, but safety.

“These waste and recycling handlers, they live in our communities,” she said. “They just want to work and go home, but just like ambulance drivers and firefighters and tow truck drivers, they work in the streets, and we all need to make sure they’re safe.”

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