In Memoriam

At the risk of unleashing a river of vitriol I want to address roadside memorials. As drivers we are told that nothing should distract our attention, so no mobiles, loud music, or if the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has their way, no smoking. In the past Eva Herzigova’s advert for Wonderbra caused a string of accidents caused by male drivers being distracted by her female charms displayed on very large hoardings around London.

[T]he appearance of these shrines in England is all the more surprising since the tradition is alien to Protestant cultures. They are contrastingly common in Spain, parts of Austria and much of South America. But I’m getting fed up with seeing these mounds of flowers, soft toys or football shirts placed at the side of the road in this country .

Understandably relations and loved ones of the deceased will get some solace and closure from these shrines, but they are messy and distracting. You crane your neck to try to find out who the victim might be and if there are toys around the base you lose your concentration momentarily.

And what’s the point? Surely you pay your respects at the resting place of your loved one not a lamppost beside the A40. Councils will now remove any homemade signs attached to street signs, so why do they let this clutter remain at the roadside?

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents believes there are important safety messages to be drawn from the trend. “The increase in the number of shrines just highlights how dangerous our roads are,” said a spokeswoman.

But the Society is concerned that the shrines may themselves increase the risk of accidents. “It isn’t something we would like people to stop doing but it’s important they take extra care. The same applies to motorists because it’s easy for them to take their eyes off the road for even a second.”

White Bike-4 The ghost bike memorials by Steve Allen work by just reminding drivers of the need to ‘think bike’. Usually these comprise of a white bike and the victim’s name.

How about a small plaque in a distinctive colour placed where people have died this could serve the dual purpose of a modest memorial and with its distinctive colour a reminder to motorists?

One thought on “In Memoriam”

  1. When people respond to the death of a loved one, emotion is apt to take over from rationality and to prompt action of a kind and on a scale that might not be thought appropriate in other circumstances. We usually recognize this and treat it sympathetically. However, if there is evidence that roadside memorials distract drivers and heighten the risk of accidents, then that is obviously a matter of concern.

    The question we should ask is whether there is any legislation on the subject and whether, if so, some councils are failing to apply it in allowing large displays to remain beside the road for long periods of time. If there is no legislation, then it will depend on the discretion of the local authority, so we may expect different standards from borough to borough. In that case, perhaps a law should be passed as this would give councils guidance on how to respond and authority to do so in the face of opposition.

    I wonder, though, whether these displays are really any more distracting than any of the other multitudes of notices, parked vehicles, road works, hoardings, temporary bus stops, etc. that grace our streets. I think that once a particular class of objects impinges on our consciousness and causes surprise, annoyance or some other emotion, we then tend to notice examples more readily and to gain the impression that they are more numerous and more striking than they really are.

    It is an interesting subject, however, and one about which I imagine there will be a lot of discussion before a clear policy on it emerges.


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