Friday, July 6, 2012

Roadside Memorials


We’ve all seen them – those crosses and shrines along the side of the road, marking where someone died in an accident.  Many find them offensive and dangerous, others find them touching and thought provoking.  In the past twenty years, roadside memorials have increased and states are now having to enact laws concerning them.

Roadside memorials have had a place on our highways and byways since man began traveling.  It was only practical, and necessary, from ancient times through the end of the 19th century, to bury someone where they fell on a journey. The Spanish brought the tradition of roadside memorials to America. The coffin bearers would place a stone on the route each time they set the coffin down to rest on the way from the church to the cemetery.  This was a reminder for others to pray for the deceased.  The Spanish word for this is descansos meaning ‘place of rest’. The use of stones eventually gave way to marking those resting spots with crosses.

Today, roadside memorials are set up at the place where someone has died.  Family members seem to be universal in their reasons for creating roadside memorials:  It marks the spot where their loved one drew his/her last breathe, or where their spirit departed, and allows families to display their grief to the world.

Those opposed find the memorials ghoulish, a distraction and hazard to drivers, and a problem for road workers in maintaining the road’s right-of-way.  Many oppose special exemptions being given for roadside memorials when the law bars all others from placing signs, advertising or promotions on public property.

Another problem stems from the use of public space for personal mourning.  Many feel it is the state’s responsibility to keep roadways and right-of-ways clear of debris and distractions.  And the constitutional right of the separation of church and state, i.e. religious symbols placed on state (public) property is being violated. (It doesn’t matter if a Christian cross, Muslin crescent or Jewish Star of David would be used, it is still in violation of the separation of Church and State.)

States around the country are finding that roadside memorials are distracting and dangerous.  With over 50,000 travel-related deaths occurring each year in the U.S., the memorials are becoming too numerous, and if not constantly attended to, quickly dissolve into distracting eyesores.

Although there are no federal laws concerning roadside memorials, many states in the U.S. are enacting laws to limit or eliminate them.
In California and Montana, a roadside memorial may only be put up if alcohol was a factor in the crash. 

Wisconsin and New Jersey limit the amount of time a memorial can remain in place.

Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Texas, and West Virginia all offer state-issued memorial markers that bear a safe-driving message and the words “In Memory of” with the victim’s name.  These can be placed at the crash site.

The state of Delaware has taken a different approach – offering remembrance in a memorial garden.  These memorial parks are located near highway exits and at rest areas.  They have reflecting pools, landscaped walking areas, and red bricks –inscribed with the name of someone who died in a highway accident.  The bricks are provided, inscribed and placed free of charge by the state.  Other states such as Illinois and Maryland are considering offering the same type of memorial gardens. 

In view of the problems with roadside memorials, it seems that the state of Delaware may have the optimal solution.  Experts say the increase in roadside memorials offers a new way for people to share the grieving process. However, these memorial gardens will allow family and friends to share their loss without distracting or endangering the lives of highway drivers.  The bottom line must be safety first or the end result could be another roadside memorial.

~ Joy


  1. Another fascinating post. Thank you, Joy!

  2. Your statement that Montana has a restriction allowing roadside memorials only if alcohol was involved is incorrect. I'm guessing that you found the information elsewhere on the internet because the urban legend seems to have propagated across the net from an erroneous report years ago.