Roadside memorials.....yes or no?

  1. posted on sun, jan. 26, 2003

    roadside memorials bill plays emotion vs. safety
    by niki kelly
    the journal gazette (ft. wayne, in)

    indianapolis - they have become a part of americana - white crosses marking moments of tragedy along the streets and highways.
    for those who lovingly lay flowers, pictures and personal notes by their side - the roadside memorials are an integral part of the grieving process.

    and for some passers-by, they are reminders to slow down, pay attention - life is short.

    but now a state legislator and the indiana department of transportation want to remove the personal monuments and replace them with uniform signs commemorating the victims of fatal traffic accidents.

    for years, state and local highway and street departments have ignored the memorials even though they are almost always placed illegally in the right of way.

    "we are not bureaucratic machines. we understand it's an emotional issue," state transportation spokesman roger manning said. "it's a difficult situation for us. unofficially we have always viewed these illegal encroachments as part of the grieving process that some people feel compelled to put up. our crews tended to leave them alone unless they are doing work in the area."

    but the memorials are growing - not just in number but in scope.

    what used to be a simple white cross silently marking someone's last breath has turned into large crucifixes with stenciled names and fresh flowers. several found in steuben county by transportation officials even had statues, a small picket fence, solar lights and garden stones.

    "they have gotten big and unwieldy," said rep. duane cheney, d-portage, the sponsor of house bill 1110. "it is a traffic safety issue to be on the side of the road setting them up. and if indot were following the law, they would be removing them already.

    "(the indiana department of transportation is) between a rock and a hard place."

    the answer for cheney was to make the memorials uniform and less distracting to drivers.

    his legislation requires that all old memorials along state roads be removed and replaced with a sign of the state transportation department's choosing. the same sign also will be placed at the site of any new traffic fatalities.

    "this bill gives us legislative guidance and allows us to do something we think is important - maximize public safety while also providing uniform roadside memorials," manning said. "i just hope we don't wait for someone to get killed trying to maintain these sites themselves."

    he also noted that families can request the sign not be placed if they choose.

    steven owen might have made that choice.

    owen lost his wife, sandra, in a motorcycle accident at lima and dupont roads in september. since then the site has been littered with wreaths and flowers and candles, none of which owen has put up.

    "whenever they're gone, i won't replace them," he said. "why remind yourself of something that tragic in your life? if you want to put something up, go to the graveyard."

    but he also understands that people grieve differently and that the small memorial was probably helpful to sandra's friends.

    manning said the wording of a uniform sign hasn't been decided but could say something like, "indiana remembers victims of traffic accidents. please drive safely."

    governments in charge of local roads could choose to participate in the program as well, using the same uniform sign.

    manning said the markers would not be permanent, though, possibly staying up for about a year after the death. and the department has not discussed personalizing them with a name or a picture as some other states have done.

    house bill 1110 passed an initial test last week and could be voted on by the full house monday.

    rep. marlin stutzman, r-howe, voted against the bill in committee, saying he is torn by the issue.

    he noted that some of the memorials have gotten out of hand, but he said he generally supports the practice and isn't sure the legislation is needed.

    "it's helpful for families and is a reminder to me as i drive by to be careful," stutzman said.

    susan matteson, widow of fort wayne police officer brad matteson, said she doesn't know whether she would have survived emotionally without the crosses and flowers that have adorned the intersection of state and coliseum boulevards since matteson was killed there in 2000.

    "i drive by there every day, and there's an emotional tie to that place," she said. "when you go by and there's nothing there, it breaks your heart."

    that's why she has periodically replaced the items when they are taken or removed.

    "it's another place to connect with him. and there is always an awareness for others driving by that someone died there," she said. "hopefully they take a moment to think about that."

    william utesch - a psychology professor at indiana university -purdue university fort wayne - said these roadside memorials are an extremely important part of the grieving process.

    he also said he would be appalled if the state removed them altogether.

    "it's better if they allow a uniform memorial of some sort as long as people are somehow able to mark that period in their lives," utesch said.

    but he cautioned that whether it's a cross or a state-sponsored road sign, family and friends will still try to personalize it with pictures and notes.

    matteson agrees with utesch, and also said that if the state memorials are removed after a year, she would replace it with a cross of her own.

    "a year means nothing. everything is not ok just because a year went by," she said. "it may not mean anything to them, but it sure means something to us."

    so what are your feelings on this? i am not sure where i stand. i don't really mind the memorials, but i have seen a few that were really ornate or large. i could see where those could cause a potential traffic risk, but the small memorials remind me to be careful....

    any other states have laws like the one that is being proposed here in indiana? if so, how do does the government enforce them? unless a person is caught redhanded putting up the memorial, it would be difficult to charge them...and who would want the job of arresting a grieving family or friend? not me...
  2. 39 Comments

  3. by   oramar
    It is OK as long as no one is endangered. It is the ultimate lack of consideration to kill someone elses loved one making yourself feel better. Also the ultimate irony.
    Last edit by oramar on Jan 26, '03
  4. by   researchrabbit
    I haven't seen any large or ornate ones here -- mostly it is a simple cross; one, which is actually off the right of way, is a tiny statue (that one's been there for about 6 years; always look for it because a friend of mine died there).

    As long as no one is endangered to put it up or it is so big as to distract a driver, I think it's OK. Might help someone slow down or be more careful.
  5. by   Mkue
    I agree, as long as no one is endangered. I've often slowed down a bit to look at the crosses and flowers. The small ones to remind us to be careful.
  6. by   renerian
    I don't mind the roadside crosses. I would hate to be the one cutting the grass along side the road though? Can't run over it but cannot get around it............

  7. by   NurseWeasel
    All my friends and family are under strict instruction that they WILL place a small unobtrusive yet visible white cross at the spot where I was killed if I ever do actually get killed in a car accident.

    I think they're meaningful and should be allowed, yet I can also see where they're overboard sometimes. *shrug* I'd be happy with one of the uniform signs, so long as it had a space to put some kind of personalization (name, small photo?) and wasn't arbitrarily removed after a year.

    The main point is to remind people to drive safely, with a secondary objective of reminding people that I was special (blush).
  8. by   nursedawn67
    In the spot my brother was killed we had put a cross and was asked by the county to take it down for fear of it causing distraction accidents. We contacted the owners of the property just off the road there and they allowed us to put up a nice cross/monument for him. I think they should be allowed, providing they are not in the way or a distraction for the drivers.
  9. by   Tweety
    It's healing for the loved ones of those that died, so I don't have a problem with it. It should be allowed.
  10. by   emily_mom
    I agree with the majority of you that if it's not a distraction to problem.

  11. by   2MagnoliaTrees
    I don't mind them at all even though personally i wouldn't put one up. When I see one I pray for that person and their family.
  12. by   MIKEY LIKES
    There really aren't any around here to speak of. Or maybe I haven't seen any yet. I know it's not becuase everyone here is a safe and courtious driver...that's for sure. I think they should allow them as a reminder of how fragile life is, and the image they impart to follow motorists. Personally I wouldn't want a memorial on a roadside somewhere. I would rather be cremated and mixed in with cement and used in a way that would be for the betterment of follow mankind. I saw a really neat program that did just that and the compay made artifical reefs out of the concrete.
  13. by   BadBird
    It seems that I have the unpopular view of thinking that they don't belong. Isn't that what a cemetery is for?
  14. by   Stargazer
    I tend to agree, BadBird. Frankly, I've always wondered whether roadside memorials provide such a distraction--regardless of their size--with people trying to see them from the road, that they might cause further accidents.

    I completely understand the human need to memorialize the spot initially--but I think the roadside memorials ought to be removed after a few months. Otherwise, we're eventually going to end up with impromptu memorials scattered across the roadsides of half the highways in the country, and how morbid is that? There are better, safer and more appropriate ways to memorialize someone.

    A few miles from my house there is a school for deaf students located just a few blocks from a major street intersection. There is an official traffic sign on the road as you get near the intersection, reminding drivers that they are in a deaf student school zone and to slow down. At the bottom of the sign it says "In memory of _______ (student who was killed)." I think something like that is a much more productive permanent way to memorialize someone.