EVERY YEAR, THE WASHINGTON-BASED Environmental Industry Associations (EIA) recognizes a select group of garbage truck drivers with Driver of the Year awards. Winners are chosen based solely on exceptional job performance and recommendations. They receive a $500 check and a plaque.

The Driver of the Year award is presented in seven categories. Large categories include companies with fleets of 100 vehicles or more, while small categories cover companies with fleets of less than 100 vehicles (including subsidiaries of larger companies).

“We are very proud of our Drivers of the Year and their safety record, commitment to their companies and quality of customer service,” says Bruce Parker, EIA's President and CEO.

Americana Program Underwriters and Zurich North America are the sponsors of the Driver of the Year Program.

The 2006 winners are listed below:

Large Residential: Michael Thomas of Duncan Disposal/Republic Services Inc., Arlington, Texas, has been driving garbage trucks for 26 years without any reportable accidents. He is known for going out of his way to help customers, as evidenced by the gift certificates they often give him while on his route. “It's exciting to be a Driver of the Year,” Thomas says. “As long as I can be of help to the customer, I'm happy.”

Large Commercial: Among the distinctions held by Robert Jordan of Allied Waste Industries in Richmond, Va., is a 22-year accident-free driving record. He started his career in the waste business as a mechanic before becoming a can man, a helper and now a driver logging 52 to 54 hours on the road each week. “Keeping my truck in good condition is real important,” Jordan says.

Large Industrial: Ronald Settle of Republic Services Inc. in Winston Salem, N.C., has been driving for 36 years without any reportable accidents. “I have a set group of customers who call me directly for service,” Settle says. “One customer wrote in that he greatly appreciates my efforts because I wait until the compactor is full before pulling it and that keeps his costs down.”

Public Sector: City of San Diego driver Junius Hawkins, who has driven garbage trucks for 29 years, has a near-perfect driving record. He has driven a wide range of vehicles, including crane carriers, rear loaders, side loaders and automated trucks. “Today, I drive a garbage truck that runs on natural gas, which still has the same power as the old trucks, but keeps the air cleaner, and I feel real good about that,” Hawkins says.

Small Residential: Ralph Dick of Allied Waste Services of Hagerstown, Hagerstown, Md., has a 20-year accident-free driving record. He spends most of his time navigating narrow roads and one-way streets, servicing 11,400 homes each week. “There are a lot of safety issues in the city because people don't want to wait to get around me,” Dick says.

Small Commercial: Richard Lemley of Allied Waste Services of Albany in Latham, N.Y., has been driving 18 years without a reportable accident. “Half of my route is driving at night, so I have to watch for hidden obstacles, especially in commercial areas where equipment may be near by,” Lemley says.

Small Residential: Salvatore Lemorta of Allied Waste Services of Albany in Latham, N.Y., has been driving garbage trucks for 21 years without a reportable accident. “My route is busy every day, but we have safety meetings every other Wednesday, so I just follow the company's safety rules and don't get mad when I'm on the road,” Lemorta says.

Alice Jacobsohn is director of public affairs and industry research for the EIA. Reach her by e-mail at alicej@envasns.org.