There is a very good chance that if you were to travel for only a few miles on any interstate highway here in Tennessee that you would soon encounter some sort of roadside memorial meant to serve the dual purpose of commemorating the loss of a loved one and reminding motorists to drive safely.
While most of us appreciate these poignant memorials, the Tennessee Department of Transportation takes what some might describe as a decidedly colder view of them.
Specifically, agency officials indicate that they have a duty to keep roadsides clear of all obstructions, and that state law expressly prohibits the placement of roadside memorials under any circumstances.
"Public right of way is state-owned property and technically anyone who uses that land or puts something on that land is trespassing," said a TDOT spokesperson.
It should be noted, however, that this prohibition against roadside memorials is not born out of a lack of empathy, but rather out of concern for public safety.
Specifically, the agency's concerns are twofold. First, officials maintain that it is inherently dangerous for individuals to stop their automobiles alongside a busy roadway and walk to a location where traffic might be racing by at speeds in excess of 70 miles-per-hour. Second, officials argue that however well intentioned, these roadside memorials may prove distracting to motorists and, if large enough, could cause significant damage if accidentally struck by them.
While TDOT typically stops short of issuing a citation to those who erect roadside memorials, they will ask people to take them down. For instance, a woman who lost her husband while he was parked on the shoulder of I-24 in Murfreesboro this past December was recently asked to take down a simple wooden cross that she and her son placed at the scene in remembrance.
"I think it would help other motorists who have lost a loved one for any reason," she said of the ordeal. "Things like that make it hard to cope."
TDOT officials have pointed out that those looking to honor those whose lives were lost in motor vehicle accidents do have the option of taking part in the Tennessee Groves program, which enables people to purchase flowers or trees that will be planted in honor of their loved ones at one of four welcome centers across the state.
What are your thoughts on this issue? Is TDOT acting too harshly toward the family and friends of car accident victims or is this stance necessary to keep the roads safe?
Source: News Channel 5, "Roadside memorials illegal in Tennessee," Emily Luxen, March 28, 2014; The Daily News Journal, "Warpoole family asked to remove roadside memorial," Michelle Willard, March 26, 2014