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Published: Wednesday, 6/8/2005

Markers aid the living

ROADSIDE memorials marking the site of fatal traffic crashes do more than help grieving families. The memorials remind the driving public that somebody died there, and that a little extra caution is warranted.

Maybe the Ohio Department of Transportation should be less resistant to the idea and think about how it might accommodate grieving families who want to place a floral wreath or simple wooden cross at the spot where tragedy claimed the life of a loved one.

Ohio experiences one road fatality roughly every six hours. So roadside memorials could become a depressing trend if all grieving families wanted one. But the fact is many, if not most, would not.

A Toledo-area research team studied the issue; their work appeared in a recent issue of the American Association of Behavioral and Social Sciences Journal. Jeff Gordon, Bowling Green State University geography professor, and Esther Beckmann, Toledo psychologist, urge ODOT to communicate with the families of fatal traffic victims before removing roadside tributes often erected hurriedly and furtively.

Indeed, ODOT spokesman Joe Rutherford rightly says that ODOT's responsibility is to keep Ohio roads safe. None of the driving public will argue with that or accept anything less from the state agency. But talks with families could lead to the exploration of more acceptable memorials that still keep the roads safe.

One consideration is for families to seek permission from private property owners near the site of a fatal accident to put up their memorials. However, at many accident sites, especially along major roads and interstate highways, there is no private property nearby.

Roadside memorials are a recent trend, and it isn't likely they distract drivers any more than billboards or other signs. In fact, the one important purpose they serve is to remind drivers that an accident can occur any time, any place.

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