We’ve all seen them as we’re tooling down the highway. A small outcropping on the highway decorated with floral arrangements, wreaths, crosses and the name of the deceased individual whose life ended there at that juncture. When we see these, we are reminded of the fragility of life and may reflect upon the unfortunate circumstances that claimed that person’s life.
But, what is the real purpose of these highway memorials? Do they serve a greater good, such as making motorists check their speed or fasten seat belts?
Highway memorials serve as warnings
They certainly can cause drivers to pay closer attention to the road and any hazards like sharp curves, missing sections of guardrail or other problems. Many drivers may note their presence and subconsciously adapt safer driving habits. But that typically is not their primary purpose.
They mark the loss of life
These roadside memorials and similar tributes like the white-painted “ghost bikes” erected at sites where a cyclist lost their life in a crash are set up by the victims’ family members and friends to memorialize their loved ones.
The custom evolved from the southwestern states and was greatly influenced by the indigenous and Hispanic Catholic culture and their practice of marking the road with descansos for the funeral processions. For more than two centuries, residents of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas have placed plain white crosses along the roads that funeral processions passed when traveling from the church to the graveyard.
A custom spread all over the nation
Today, you can find these roadside memorials in all 50 states. Even in jurisdictions where they are technically illegal, the roadside memorials are usually tolerated by local authorities who recognize their role in the grieving process.
Other ways to mark the loss of life
Another arguably more effective way to mark a loved one’s untimely passing in a collision is to hold the at-fault driver liable for their death. This can be done by filing a wrongful death lawsuit in the Illinois civil court system.