Roadside Memorials might not seem to be controversial. They exist as silent reminders of tragedies on the roads – flowers, crosses, notes, photos, pinwheels and the odd stuffed toy, all bearing witness to a life that ended too early. We pass them and resolve, perhaps, to drive a little more carefully. If we’re out for an evening, the marker might persuade us to stay sober for the drive home.
Yet roadside memorials are controversial. Back in May a discussion started regarding the Arizona Department of Transportation’s policy of removing roadside memorials, which the organization considered safety hazards. There was a legal argument too: the memorials use public property for a private purpose.
Wisely, ADOT examined its policy when a public outcry began, and as they promised, the organization has issued a policy to clarify their position. In fact, the policy statement acknowledges the need for such monuments, but attempts to balance the need of friends and family to grieve with public safety.
Here is a summary of the rules:
- Markers may be placed on state or U.S. highways
- The victim’s family or a person with written permission from them must make a request with ADOT
- Marks should be at the highway edge that is farthest from the road, and in a place that does not distract motorists
- It may not be in a median or between lanes, affixed to signs or other traffic control devices, or located on private property without permission
There are also specifications about the size and makeup of the memorial. It’s important to note that the memorials are not intended for visitation – having cars and people stop around can be dangerous.
All in all, it’s a reasonable compromise, one that respects the feelings of victims’ families while imposing some order in the name of public safety. Well done, ADOT.
Important as memorials are, it’s even more important to reduce the number of crash victims on Arizona’s roads. Arizona’s all-offender ignition interlock law (requiring car breathalyzers for all drunk driving offenders) was an excellent start. Two other measures remain:
- Better enforcement and monitoring of ignition interlock use in the state
- Strong laws and enforcement against distracted driving, particularly phone use
Memorials are not just for families; they are there to teach us to be better drivers. Every time a drunk driver or texting driver is stopped, those roadside markers gain more meaning for everyone.