Pros, Cons of Roadside Memorials Studied

Do roadside memorials for those killed in car crashes remind motorists to drive more safely or cause more accidents because they are distracting?

This is a question I’ve long pondered and an issue to which our newspaper has devoted a special report.

It’s also a topic of a study conducted by the Schulich School of Engineering at the University of Calgary in Canada. The bottom line: the authors found the memorials appear to “have significant short-term safety benefits,” and at very least, “There does not appear to be any downside in allowing roadside memorials.”

Here’s more from the study, led by Professor Richard Tay, from the University of Calgary’s web site:

Tay’s study shows that the markers appear to have significant short-term safety benefits. As part of his study, he placed mock-up memorials at selected intersections with red light cameras within the City of Calgary. In the six weeks after the markers were installed, nearly 17 percent fewer drivers ran red lights than in the six weeks prior to installation.

Keep in mind there’s a difference between a makeshift memorial (with flowers, crosses and other remembrances) and a county or state sponsored sign (i.e. “Please Don’t Drink and Drive”).

Our own county has been altering its own roadside memorial policy in recent years. The current policy, approved by the county commissioners this year, mandates that its blue signs remain up for a decade. Signs through the state (the white signs) remain indefinitely.

Roadside memorials have become a phenomenon the world around. They are heartfelt here in America because we lose somewhere in the neighborhood of 43,000 people per year on our roads in crashes.

Aside from the study, what are your personal views on the roadside memorial question? Do they help or hinder traffic safety?

11 thoughts on “Pros, Cons of Roadside Memorials Studied

  1. Well they certainly can’t hinder traffic safety, else our roadsides would need to be blocked from drivers view….businesses, signs, cemetery, car lots, Wendy’s, Big Mac places…nothing should show.

    Yes, I agree. Roadside memorials should help, not hinder drivers.

  2. The ones I feel hinder safety are when they place balloons, flowers, additional written signs, etc. When you start placing balloons on these signs and they being whipped by the wind, it does become a distraction, along with anything else.

  3. I don’t believe the road sign memorials hinder drivers at all. If anything they are a reminder to drive safe and sober because too many are killed by drunk driving. I think that sometimes people will put a wreath, flowers or even a balloon to remember the loved ones birthday or a holiday. Too me that says “this was a real person who is loved and missed” and it gives me as a driver a renewed importance to the message “Don’t Drink and Drive”. These are much more than just another sign along the road, they represent real people, and the familys that pay to place these signs do it because they care about others, they don’t want it to happen to anyone else.

  4. Well, I feel road signs for memorials are fine, if it is just the road sign and no additions such as balloons, ect. I personally have found that the balloons at night blowing causes a distraction that could potentially cause an accident. Headlights catching the silvery kind are awful. However, I for one would not put up such a memorial as I do not want to walk along a busy road to just tend to this. That is asking for trouble, in my opinion. So I guess what I am saying is the signs are fine, as they communicate a message, but the rest I can do without.

  5. The memorials along the roadside give me pause as I think about the person who lost their life there and the families that tend the memorials. It helps remind me to drive carefully and defensively so that I would not be the cause of someone elses death along the highway. There is a spot along Highway 16 where the bark was torn off three trees from a car flying into the air and rolling along those trees. It was caused by a man with road rage who tried to pass on the left and hit the car it was trying to pass. My son was in the car that was hit and thankfully he was only bruised. Whenever I am driving by that scene I look at the barkless trees and remember what could have happened there. There is no memorial except the minor damage to the trees, but I will never forget what might have happened.
    And, yes I would have placed a memorial there if things had been different.

  6. Speaking of balloons whipping in the wind…what about all the Used Car Lots with their acres of plastic pennants flopping in the breeze to gain attention from the passing motorist?

    Businesses do all they can to catch the eye of the motorist and no one complains about it…why the concern with the ‘memorials’ alongside the road?

    One wants to grab your pocketbook, the other your heart.

    The roadside memorial is a warning and a reminder that bad things can and do happen to good people – be careful.

    Maureen says it well…
    Sharon O’Hara

  7. Yes, even the banners at car lots, balloons announcing a birthday party at the end of a driveway, the political signs, all of those are a distraction to drivers. However, I have never seen a posting in relation to those.

    I am simply stating an opinion that those items at a memorial sight can be a distraction to drivers. Your eyes stray from the road looking at those items, or perhaps being startled, even the items I have stated above. Eyes should be on the road and if you have items that flap, candles lit, pumpkins along the roadway, whatever the item is…it will cause a distraction.

    The memorial signs are grand and I applaud the families that have these installed as I do feel they are a teaching tool. Signs are what we are trained to view as it gives us direction. So reading the memorial signs is natural and tells us the message we all need reminding of. The rest has a tendency to distract from the drivers attention to the road, which is also a part of driving safely. I attended a defensive driving/safety course through my work, and one of the lessons they teach you is to never let your eyes stray from the road. That may be or is difficult for many drivers. I know that at times it has been for me. I am simply posting my opinion on the this topic.

  8. Michele your points are valid and I agree with you.

    Probably a reason the other distracting banners, balloons haven’t been commented on is because we’re raised with them.

    The memorials are relatively new and an emotional statement for most of us.

    But unless the other roadside distractions are removed too, I don’t see how the memorials can be discriminated against.

    You also bring up the good point of drivers taking a defensive driving/safety course…I’d like to take one, thank you.
    Sharon O’Hara

  9. Fedup and Josh

    There is one study on the effect of roadside memorial on crashes. One of the my students compared the crash history of several “permanent” sites around the city with comparable sites and found no significant changes in most memorial sites, except one where crashes have reduced.

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