Two of Dan Balint’s family members are gone. But if the Wisconsin state legislature has its way, they will soon be forgotten.
Citing safety concerns, Wisconsin has recently banned roadside memorials much like the 8-foot cross Balint constructed to memorialize his relatives.
The state legislature believes that such memorials will distract passing drivers, as well as put those visiting the shrines in immediate danger because of their close proximity to the road.
What they don’t understand is the magnitude of the tragedies affecting the victims’ families and the personalized steps they take to remember their loved ones.
In Balint’s case, his father and brother were two of 10 people killed last year in a multi-vehicle pileup. The accident, near Sheboygan, was the deadliest crash in Wisconsin history.
Along with Balint, families of those killed erected crosses along Interstate 43 near the accident site. The state then removed Balint’s cross, much to the dismay of those in mourning.
Because of the incident, Wisconsin and other states have looked into revising their laws regarding roadside memorials.
But the line between safety and the emotions of the grieving is apparently too tough for state legislatures to draw.
“We’re trying to deal bureaucratically with something that’s so personal, it makes it difficult to find a solution to address what we believe is a central issue: the risk that you’re going to have more people injured as a result of the original crash that they’re trying to memorialize,” said David Vieth, Wisconsin’s Bureau of Highway Operations director.
However, there are no statistics linking memorials to vehicular injury or death, only speculation.
But if concern is growing among lawmakers, they must not forget the chance of bumper stickers, marquees, billboards and other roadside items having an adverse affect on the eyes of a motorist.
To me, a 30-foot billboard displaying Jennifer Lopez’s backside is a lot more distracting than a white cross erected in a field.
Currently, only Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Colorado openly ban roadside memorials.
Most other states leave the matter to local governments or try to issue state regulated signs.
In Virginia, lawmakers approved a proposal to erect signs displaying the message, “Drive safely in memory of” and the victim’s name.
But funding was never granted because of an estimated cost of $31,500 per year.
But, such standardized signs have been implemented in Alabama. John MacKinnon, Alaska’s deputy commissioner of highway and public facilities has nothing but praise for the homogenized markings.
“A blue and white highway sign is good. It’s durable. It’s easy to read as you drive by,” MacKinnon said.
Even though the regulated signs may be durable and easy to read, they lack the delicate nature of which most private memorials are built.
The impersonality of state-controlled signage is a discredit to the family members who are trying to combat their grief.
Roadside memorials are a testament to the departed, as well as a reminder for those living to drive responsibly. There is no harm in remembering a loved one, nor is there any foul when a motorist gives a passing glance to their left or right.
If a motorist can’t stand the sight of a cross along the roadside, there are bigger things to worry about.
I suggest starting with the competence of the person behind the wheel.
Brandon Lausch can be reached at email@example.com.