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America’s truck drivers get a handle on highway litter

By on September 8, 2015

America’s truck drivers are looking at the world through their windshield — and they don’t always like what they see. From coffee cups and empty soda bottles to cigarette butts and dirty diapers, it’s often hard to enjoy the view.

A former First Lady could set an example for creating a better work environment for truck drivers throughout the country.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Highway Beautification Act, championed by Lady Bird Johnson, the wife of President Lyndon Johnson. She wanted billboards and junkyards removed from the nation’s highways and replaced with flowers, plants and trees. She believed that improving the natural environment would have safety benefits as well, eliminating the unsightly eyesores that could lead to distracted driving.

Her mission to help beautify the landscape and combat roadside litter lives on, and there are growing concerns about the issue of litter. Last year, the U.S. government spent nearly $11 billion in cleanup costs nationwide.

The nonprofit organization Keep America Beautiful hopes to reduce that kind of spending by educating people about litter prevention through community improvement programs.

“Small actions make big differences,” says Cecile Carson, senior director of affiliate development for Keep America Beautiful. “Keeping our environment cleaner, greener and more beautiful is an everyday challenge. There has been a renewed interest now within the younger generation to make a positive change.”

As the first step toward turning that interest into action, the organization is making a push for greater accountability. Since roads in the United States are not owned by any particular person, few people feel responsible for their upkeep.

“There’s this idea that someone is going to clean up after them,” says Carson. “We have to change behaviors and educate communities about policies and procedures. It’s not just about having a written expectation down on paper. We need to have consequences and enforcement.”

Home on the road

Keeping land litter-free boosts the visual appeal of our nation’s roadways, but there’s more to it than mere aesthetics.

“Litter cleanup is not just about beauty, but about security and enhancement,” Carson says. “When people litter, that’s a major hazard for truck drivers. The road is their office and where they’re spending most of their time.”

Truck drivers are operating large, heavy vehicles that have relatively long stopping distances. A piece of trash tossed out a window can easily turn into an airborne hazard coming at them.

Flying debris can strike drivers’ windshields, obscure vision and cause injuries. These distraction-related accidents create havoc that could cost drivers precious time or even cost them their lives.

“When I’m driving, I’ll see nails, boards, pieces of rubber and other items that could cause flat tires,” says Eric Schertz, a driver for Valley Trucking in Brownsville, Texas. “If there’s not a lot of traffic, we can try and stop to pick it up or make a phone call to the local officials. When I’m traveling I see a lot of drink containers and fast-food cups, too. Anything in the road is a potential hazard.”

Many state and local affiliates of Keep America Beautiful provide a hotline where drivers can report instances of littering from motor vehicles. These affiliates often join with civic groups and volunteer organizations to participate in the Adopta- Highway Program to help reduce litter along the highways.

Schertz urges all truck drivers to be more considerate about their surroundings. The easiest way to keep people from littering is by setting a good example.

“I’d remind all truck drivers that we’re in this together,” he says. “When they see others taking action, it encourages them to do something about the problem, too. It’s an honor, as a driver, to travel all across the U.S. and meet interesting people. I want to make sure our roadways stay clean and safe for everyone out there.”

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