The issue of roadside memorials seems to never go away. Though we, sadly, have been down this road before, all of it should sunset when necessary.
Roadside memorials are the places you drive past where crosses mark the site of a fatality. Family and friends often erect a tribute to the deceased. As we stated in 2016, they either touch your heart or make you mad; they can be a reminder for the living — of the loss or the need for better driving — or they can be a distraction to the driving public.
In 2016, the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) came under scrutiny when officials there decided to remove the memorials from state roads.
“ADOT recognizes the need for loved ones to grieve for those killed in crashes and that some choose to do so through memorials placed along roadsides,” ADOT’s director stated at the time. “Our job is to serve the public and to listen to the public. In response to these very genuine concerns, we are reevaluating our policy and procedures with a goal of providing an opportunity for those who wish to express their grief and preserving memorials that do not present a safety hazard.”
The key here is they serve as effective reminders for the living; at the same time, if they become a safety hazard the memorial should come down.
On Sunday, April 22, the Courier told you about the recent speech by now-Detective Jim Tobin of Yavapai College. He related the stories behind some of the roadside memorials over his career. As a sheriff’s deputy or Prescott Valley police officer, he has — on too many occasions — been the person who had to tell next of kin their family member would not be coming home ever again.
“Not one of these people woke up and thought that was going to be their last day on Earth,” said Tobin, who relies on the “White Cross Project” to inspire people to think about their decisions, so no police officer has to knock on one of their loved ones’ doors.
A lot of these memorials exist, scattered throughout Yavapai County — a bicycle, bicycle wheels, crosses, motorcycle helmets, steering wheels, boots, etc. Besides offering a chance to grieve, these memorials can give us some food for thought as we roar past them.
Families and friends of the deceased hope the memorials raise awareness – of drunk driving, distracted driving, road rules, safety and more.
The challenge comes when the memorial becomes so flashy — one we know of has lights, powered by solar batteries — or is difficult to get to for family “caretakers.”
The folks who put them up need to take the responsibility for the upkeep. If you want to erect a memorial, talk to your local officials first.
One concern we have heard from readers is that memorials do not belong on the highway, but in a cemetery. That makes sense when one sees memorials that have become permanent. When is it time to move on?
Still, we must use common sense.
Keep them out of the roadway, off the shoulder and, at a minimum, never let them become a distraction. Because, if that becomes the case, they may add to the tragedy instead of serving as a warning.