Roadside Memorials Commemorating U.S. Road Crash Victims

During the defensive- and advanced-driver instructing that I’ve done in over forty American states and six Canadian provinces, I have long-since lost count of how many crash victim’s roadside memorials I have happened to see — it is, of course, an excessive number because far too many people are killed and injured in road crashes every year.

A crash victim's roadside memorial.
A lonely, anonymous memorial to a road crash victim alongside an interstate highway. (Copyright image, 2018.)

When driving past a roadside memorial, our instructors are taught to briefly mention it to trainees and then afterwards, during lunch or a coffee-stop, to raise the subject and ask trainees what they think might have been the cause of a fatal crash at that particular location.  The goal is actually to discuss the fact that crashes almost always involve multiple factors.  We hope that this act of us discussing such issues also helps fulfil a desire among many mourning relatives and friends that the very sight of a memorial might make other drivers pause for thought, or might potentially even save a life.

Roadside memorial, accompanied by a safe motorcycling message.
Some families clearly hope to promote a relevant aspect of safety at crash scenes. (Copyright image, 2019.)

From a passing driver’s perspective this question we ask about crash causes at particular locations cannot have a definitive answer because that requires knowledge of the full crash investigation, but this is the part of the reason for asking it.

Certain types of locations, such as sharp curves or crossroads, might indicate a likelihood for what happened on the tragic day but as mentioned above, crashes are usually more complex events than most drivers realize.  One research source shows an average of 2.5 factors per crash.  Getting drivers to understand how two or three seemingly minor issues can suddenly gang together and trigger a disastrous outcome is our goal in these circumstances.

Two memorial crosses against the pillar of a highway bridge.
We do not know whether the two crosses at the foot of the column on the left are for two different people or the same individual.  Clearly, visiting these memorials on this median, or even just taking flowers, would be too dangerous.  (Copyright image, 2019.)

But now back to the other aspect of these sad locations:  the act of creating a memorial to a loved one.

Two roadside memorial crosses on one curve.
Two white crosses on opposite sides of the road, allegedly from two separate incidents. (Copyright image, 2012.)

A common factor with roadside memorials is that — even if they are permitted in the State or city concerned — they sometimes fall into disrepair, and depending on circumstances, they often disappear within a few years of being erected.

Dilapidated roadside memorial cross in long grass.
Only days after this photo was taken, the cross was effectively invisible in the long grass. The next time that grass is mowed might be the end of the memorial.   (Copyright image, 2019.)

One of the things we are doing at Road Safety USA is creating a national, online memorial, available for anyone who has died in any collision on any U.S. road, parking lot or driveway.  This is for any point in motor vehicle history, so that your loved ones’ names, photos and story can be recorded and easily found, in perpetuity.

Two roadside memorials to people killed in seaparate crashes at the same location.
Another location with at least two separate tragedies. The memorial on top of the rock is to a state trooper. The wooden cross at ground level is to a person killed in an entirely separate crash.  (Copyright image, 2017.)

Apart from providing a major memorial for all crash victims, this big, long-term project will progressively become a powerful tool to increase awareness and reduce road deaths, but more will be announced about that aspect in due course.

For more details, please contact us at:

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