They’re easy to spot along the road, on a shoulder or at an intersection. A cross, a photograph, perhaps a teddy bear, some flowers. They not only commemorate a life lost on the road, they also mark the spot on which the life was lost.
In Arizona, they’re illegal, and that seems wrong to the friends and families of some of the victims.
It’s the Arizona Department of Transportation’s policy to remove roadside memorials when they find them. They’re considered safety hazards to the authorities, and there is a legal argument too: they appropriate public property for a private purpose. But to families, the shrines are tributes, reminders, ways to remember loved ones and also to remind others to drive safely.
When crews removed a number of memorials on U.S. 60 and SR 177, the objections prompted officials to reexamine the policy. Changes may be announced soon.
In fact, roadside memorials serve an important purpose, making real and immediate the fact that drunk, reckless or distracted driving can kill anyone. One could argue that there should be a time limitation on them, but ADOT is right to listen to the victims’ loved ones.
There is another way to commemorate those lives that Arizona and every state government should consider: a comprehensive, well-enforced driver safety policy. This means
- Ignition interlocks for all DUI offenders (Arizona already has such a law)
- Enforcement and monitoring of ignition interlock use
- Well-enforced laws against texting, handheld phones and other forms of distracted driving
In some states such laws are given the name of a victim as a form of remembrance. While they can’t be named after all the victims, such laws do honor everyone touched by drunk and distracted driving by saving lives day in, day out.