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Directions in Highway Safety, Spring 2007 Cover Page Download Newsletter pdf
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Spring 2007 | Vol. 10 | No. 1

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States Struggle with Roadside Memorial Issue

The issue of roadside memorials and how states should regulate them continues to garner attention from safety advocates, legislatures and the media. According to Professor Arthur Jipson, a University of Dayton scholar who tracks state action on roadside memorials, 22 states now have enacted legislation to address this issue in some capacity. That number has doubled in the last five years.

According to Jipson and other experts, roadside memorials have become so numerous and so distracting and dangerous that more and more states are trying to regulate them. California and Montana allow the memorials but only if alcohol was a factor in the crash. Other states like Wisconsin and New Jersey limit how long memorials can remain in place.

Delaware is taking a unique approach that may be duplicated in other states. The state is establishing a memorial park near a highway exit in hopes of discouraging the memorials. The park will include a reflection pool and red bricks with crash victims' names inscribed, which are provided free to the loved ones.

Roadside Memorial

States have felt the need to regulate memorials but face a difficult balancing act. Professor Jipson was quoted in a recent New York Times article as saying "Governments are reluctant to tell people what to feel or how to mourn. At the same time, it's their job to keep these spaces public."

In addition to balancing the concerns of family members with public safety, states have to be cognizant of concerns raised by atheists and others who object to religious images being placed in public space. The Freedom from Religion Foundation has successfully defended citizens who have been arrested for removing religious images from roadside memorials. The Foundation also has filed litigation against states where the group believes the state is encouraging the religious overtones in the memorials.

How does your state handle roadside memorials? Please e-mail jadkins@ghsa.org.