Litter Program Changes Behavior, Could Model Work for Traffic?


Two things seem pretty clear about the HOV lane in Tennessee.

The first is that, as has been shown in so many places around the country, if used right it reduces commute times for all.

And two, as the Tennessee Department of Transportation estimates, misuse of the lane could be as high as 90 percent; no one is using it right.

In earlier stories we have talked about the many problems surrounding HOV lanes, why the laws enforcing them are not, well, enforced; what could be done, what is not being done.

There is a program on the state highways, run by TDOT, that manages another issue: littering. The program, which successfully removes nearly 12,000 tons of litter from state highways each year, has a total budget of about $5.4 million per year on 700,000 miles of roadway. That means that for every dollar spent, about 4.5 pounds of litter is removed from the highways.

The program, which focuses dually on education and on actual pickup– with about $3.3 million going to pick-up and the remaining $2 million-plus going to outreach and education.

The programs 2017 annual report points out that this dual process is having a real effect— in 2010 there were 25 million pounds of litter removed from roadways. In 2016 that had dropped down to just over 20 million pounds. Not only is the refuse being removed, but the actual amount people litter has also gone down: behavior has changed.

Interestingly, one of its most effective tools for finding litter, and those who break the law by littering, is a citizen hotline. When citizens notify TDOT of a littering incident, a letter is mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle along with a car trash bag or portable ashtray and other anti-litter information.

The letter gently reprimands alleged offenders by discouraging litter behavior and informing them that littering is against the law and punishable by a fine. The entire program is anonymous. Records are not kept regarding individuals who make the report or those receiving a letter. The Citizen’s Litter Prevention Hotline is an educational tool to remind those who engage in littering that their actions are hurtful to the state and to their community. TDOT maintains the toll-free hotline at 1877-8-LITTER (877-854-8837.) Citizens can also report a littering incident online at
That a negative behavior by drivers can be not only neutralized but reversed, through education and action.

With HOV lanes being misused daily, this model could be applied. However, TDOT has no similar program attempting to change behavior. A policy change would be needed.

A model like this proves that with a small investment– at least relative to TDOTs more-than $2 billion annual budget— behavior can get changed.

In the next part of this story, we will talk to leaders at TDOT about what it would take to institute a similar program for HOV lanes. And then in the third part, we will talk to legislators who are trying to pass a bill that will direct that policy.

Related Stories:

Why HOV Lanes Should Be Used, But Are Not

Tennessee HOV Enforcement Lowest in Country

What the Future of Williamson County Traffic Looks Like

Reducing Congestion in Nashville