Roadside memorials to those who have died in traffic accidents are an increasingly popular way to pay tribute to the deceased. However, those involved in creating tributes, and the authorities responsible for local infrastructure often have differing needs, views, and desires and this can push the two parties into conflict.
Without passing judgement on each party’s argument, we thought it important to run through the factors that typically inform the debate surrounding roadside tributes.
For many bereaved families, laying tributes at a roadside memorial is part of the grieving process. It’s a means of expressing sorrow and loss that is often vitally important to those who have lost a loved one. Many of those who create roadside memorials also argue that the tributes are an effective warning to other drivers of the dangers of a particular stretch of road or poor driving in general.
On the other hand, local authorities often view roadside tributes as a potential risk, with some arguing that tributes are a distraction to road users. Others suggest that roadside memorials can cause public space to become cluttered or that local users of the space shouldn’t have a memorial imposed on them. There is concern that roadside memorials could cause friction between residents if they’re maintained for long periods of time.
However, the relationship between local authorities and the bereaved isn’t always antagonistic and it is common for a compromise that respects all interests to be reached. Both parties also regularly agree on certain aspects of the debate, with many councils stressing that they understand the importance of roadside memorials to families and friends of the deceased.
Legislation Governing Roadside Memorials
At the moment, no existing legislation adequately covers the laying of roadside tributes to the victims of accidents. The Highways Act 1980 is likely the most pertinent piece of legislation to this issue, but it contains no provisions for the creation or removal of roadside memorials.
Instead, the governance of roadside memorials is often left to local councils who, in the absence of a national standard, create their own policies. This has resulted in discrepancies between responses across the country.
As the popularity of roadside memorials has increased, growing numbers of councils have attempted to define their response to the tributes by developing comprehensive written policies. While some councils have argued that it’s not their place to put a time limit on the grieving process, others have begun to impose limits on the amount of time a memorial can remain in place. These limits are regularly set at 30 days, though this policy has been poorly met by supporters of such tributes.
Calls for a National Response
In some areas, the debate over roadside memorials has reached such proportions that there are calls for the development of a nation-wide response in the form of new legislation.
Currently, no authority seems to be calling for a ban on the practice entirely. Instead, councillors are looking for assistance from central government to create a set of legal best practices that provide local authorities with the means to make consistent decisions regarding the removal of roadside tributes.
Importance of Close Communication with Relevant Authority
Though there is no legislation pertaining directly to the legality of roadside memorials, local authorities are within their rights to remove them should they wish. However, due to the sensitive nature of these tributes, most will be reluctant to do so unless a considerable amount of time has passed.
In almost every case, close communication with the relevant authority – be it the local council or a police liaison officer – will go a long way to reducing the possibility of conflict and ensuring an appropriate tribute is permitted. It’s also true that many councils are willing to work with the bereaved to ensure an appropriate permanent memorial can be created in place of temporary tributes.
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