Posted in: Commentary,
by Gregg Laskoski on Apr 26, 2012 02:04 PM
As long as there are cars moving on interstate highways or lesser roads and byways, there will be crashes and fatalities. As a society we can only make a concerted effort to improve automobile safety for all and reduce the loss of human life.
Each year thousands of crashes inspire well-meaning family and friends of victims to erect their own "roadside memorial" wherever they choose, and often it's put up at the very location where the crash occurred, or as close to it as possible.
Ironically, the roadside memorials constructed to mourn victims have the potential to add distractions and impede sight lines for motorists, creating safety problems that increase the risks for more crashes. More often than not such displays are poorly 'maintained' and often evolve into a conspicuous pile of indistinguishable litter.
There's also the question of propriety. Many states rely heavily on tourism. Is it really appropriate for visitors entering your state or town to see a string of roadside memorials just minutes after passing the landmark billboard that welcomes them?
So states have a responsibility to keep such memorials on private property, not on public roads, medians and easements. But while many states have such laws on the books, many are also reluctant to enforce them.
Some states post signs near the crash and include a safe driving message, which is almost like saying: "This message is brought to you by..."
Illinois will plant a tree at an interchange, "oasis" or other place away from traffic lanes. West Virginia lets you post a sign and charges the victim's family $200 for three years, renewable for three years for another $200.
How should states address this growing problem? Five years ago Delaware's Dept. of Transportation came up with an answer and they set the standard that all states would be wise to follow.
The Delaware DOT came up with a solution after Lisa Aretz wrote to former Governor Ruth Ann Minner asking her to establish a roadside memorial program, following the loss of her brother in a motorcycle crash.
Tina Shockley, DDOT's community relations officer, said Delaware, like other states has maintenance and safety concerns with roadside memorials and instead assembled a core committee of representatives from DDOT, Delaware State Police, Office of Highway Safety, MADD and others, who decided that "a memorial garden would address both the roadside memorial issue and help remember a loved one in a safe, legal manner."
The garden was built at the Smyrna Rest Area, centrally located in Delaware and home to the Rest Area which DelDOT already owned. It was funded by legislators who used some Community Transportation Fund money for supplies.
At the center of the garden is a pond with gold fish, frogs, water lillies and a waterfall. Maple, dogwood and birch trees define the quiet space and red bricks are engraved and line a wide winding path through the garden. DelDOT bears the entire cost, both for maintenance and for the brick bearing the victim's name, so the private citizen has no economic reason not to memorialize their loved one in this manner.
Maryland and other states have expressed interest and officials from South Africa have requested information too and may be coming to Delaware in May or June to see for themselves.
Delaware's garden is now home to 700+ memorial bricks. This alternative to roadside memorials represents an exemplary solution to a problem all states need to address... And in its own way it's a sanctuary that helps us all.