Roadside memorials–necessary or a hazard?


(Luis Osorio)

To families mourning the death of a loved one from a car acci­dent, a roadside memorial can be a comfort. These memorials are a special place where friends and family members can leave flowers, messages or tokens of love for the deceased person. They usually are located near or at the spot where the person died and are often easily noticed and accessible to others. The roadside memorial may be decorated by pictures, candles, stuffed animals or sometimes even some personal items belonging to the person who has passed away.

Unfortunately, with so many car-related deaths occurring each and every day, the number of roadside memorials seems to be growing.

Although the idea behind a me­morial is always touching, the prob­lem is that they can be extremely distracting for drivers and onlookers. The bright flowers, ribbons, pictures and candles can cause drivers’ eyes to leave the road, creating a very dangerous hazard to other drivers and even pedestrians sharing the road with these distracted drivers. Nobody doubts the sincerity and emotion behind a memorial but the truth is that they also pose a threat to the safety of others, potentially causing more accidents or even further fatalities.

Many people have many differ­ent reactions to this issue. Highway patrol and public affairs officer Shawn Chase has had many en­counters with the growing problem of roadside memorials, especially on highways.

“Many memorials are up for years with pictures, flowers, and many other things to remember that special person who passed away,” Chase said. “Issues do come up when it comes to memorials, but we have to be sensitive to the families in their time of need.”

Despite all the personal ideals behind memorials, highway patrol officers have to address the legal issues surrounding such displays. They have to enforce the laws and regulations that these memorials on highways may violate.

“Blocking signs or lights is more than a hazard, it is illegal,” Chase said. “Pulling over to the side of the road is illegal unless it’s an emer­gency and people can be cited for pulling over in order to place items or to clean up a memorial.”

Sadly, there are other places besides highways in which memo­rials are started by grieving family members and friends. Victims of car accidents do not just die in high speed freeway collisions, but also on local streets. Different cities have various laws that govern the placement and maintenance of the makeshift memorials that spring up as a result of these tragedies.

In nearby South San Francisco, memorials can only be in place for two days and there are restrictions on what items may be used and dis­played. South San Francisco police officer Joni Lee understands that memorials are a touchy subject.

“The city’s position is that we will remove it after a maximum of two days, not to disrespect the deceased but to keep safety on our streets,” said Lee, community relations sergeant. “They can be hazardous and even an eyesore with candles being left to burn, framed pictures that can break–glass shattering–and even dying flowers. There are so many different ways that people can remember their loved ones that can be a lot safer.”

At Skyline, students do not come across the issue very much on cam­pus. However, there are students who have personally been affected because they have friends or family that have died in a car crash or they know others that sadly had memo­rial tributes.
Skyline student Jennifer De La Cruz has first hand experience of with these memorials when one of her lifelong friends passed away in a fatal accident.

“At first it was very hard to be­lieve but I had to live with the fact that my good friend died in a car crash,” De La Cruz said.
De La Cruz believes that the me­morial is more than just a sight for people to look at, but are part of the essence of the person who died.

“Memorials should be put up in remembrance of that person,” De La Cruz said. “Its more than just flow­ers, candles and a picture. It is the last place were my friend was seen breathing–living–and should be cherished for a lifetime by friends and family members.”