FACE TO FACE: Should roadside shrines to the dead be allowed?
Communities across North America are facing increasing pressures to regulate roadside memorials.
There are some, like my colleague opposite, who think they are an eyesore and distraction. I, on the other hand, have a more compassionate take, and believe these impromptu cenotaphs serve several important purposes.
The practice of erecting roadside memorials not only brings comfort to those who have suddenly lost a loved one in motor vehicle accident, but also allows the public an opportunity to collectively mourn the loss of a community member.
I feel compelled to cite the tragic accident involving two young women who in February were killed by an alleged drunk driver on Lougheed Highway in Coquitlam. Lorraine Cruz was driving a SUV when it struck a concrete barrier near Pitt River Road. Charlene Reaveley saw the crash and approached the vehicle to check on the occupants. She was helping Cruz out of the SUV when the two women were hit by a Jeep. They were killed instantly.
The story of their deaths touched the whole community; we all felt their families' loss even though most of us didn't know them.
Their roadside memorial, which still exists today, allows passers-by the opportunity to reflect, remember and to receive closure on the loss of two reportedly extraordinary women especially since most of us weren't included in the funeral itself.
Moreover, according to a 2008 study conducted by the University of Calgary and the Alberta Motor Association, the presence of roadside memorials can actually make people drive more carefully in some instances.
As part of the study, researchers placed mocked-up memorials at selected intersections with red light cameras within the city of Calgary. In the six weeks after the markers were installed, nearly 17% fewer drivers ran red lights than in the six weeks prior to installation.
"No study thus far has found any negative safety effects, either in the long term or the short term," noted the study. "There does not appear to be any downside in allowing roadside memorials."
Sure, these memorials can sometimes by an eyesore but the benefits to the grieving families and community outweigh the minor irritation.
Andy Radia is a Coquitlam resident and political columnist who writes for Yahoo! Canada News and Vancouver View Magazine. He has been politically active in the Tri-Cities, having been involved with election campaigns at all three levels of government, including running for Coquitlam city council in 2005.