Respectful shrines or highway distractions?

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More roadside memorials may equal fewer accidents

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in the Other Press. Jan. 7, 2014

We often see them at intersections and long stretches of highway: roadside memorials set up in remembrance of those lost as a result of traffic accidents and collisions. These shrines commonly take the form of a cross, some flowers, some candles, perhaps a picture of the departed. They give no details of the crash, no signs of the carnage, and there’s rarely even any damage to the roadside. Regardless of the cause, roadside memorials offer people a chance to mourn the loss of a loved one, in addition to cautioning other drivers and reminding them about the dangers of the road.

According to Canadian Motor Vehicle Traffic Collision Statistics, an estimated 2,227 fatalities occurred on the roads in 2010. These numbers seem meaningless to us as we rush through traffic, disregarding the speed limit signs. Associating numbers with people is not an easy thing to do. People just don’t personify numbers that way, so it’s hard to sympathize with a number. Like Joseph Stalin once said, “The death of one is a tragedy, the death of a million is a statistic.”

Some consider roadside memorials to be a distraction; drivers shouldn’t have to feel wary when they navigate through a hazardous stretch of road, they should be focussed on what they need to do, instead of worrying about those who have died. But what better way to remind drivers to stay focussed, than to show the consequences of negligent driving? We often get so concentrated on the things we need to do and the places we need to be that we forget about our morality. After all, the most important thing about being alive is living.

Roadside memorials shouldn’t only be sites for mourning the dead; they should be visual reminders alerting us that we are still alive, and that the safety of us, our passengers, and other people on the road is alive as well. Don’t let the deaths of others be in vain—we should always learn something from the mistakes of others. That way, the story of our lives won’t result in tragedy and our memories won’t wind up in a statistic.

On the highways around Quito, Ecuador, drivers and passengers can often see blue hearts painted onto the road. In Spanish, those blue hearts are referred to as “Corazones Azules,” and each one symbolizes a death upon the road. This campaign was initiated after a school bus crashed in 2007, with very few survivors, to remind drivers to drive safely in all conditions. More than 40 blue hearts now mark the roads of the accident-prone country built upon the lip of the Andes Mountains. Canadians should take inspiration from that idea; small, unobtrusive markings may do more than mere speed limit signs and police radar.

Fines, warnings, and criminal recorders may take those who violate the rules off the streets—but it’s more important to put the humanity back into the drivers. We all have places to go, but for now, let’s avoid the hospital, the morgue, and the cemetery.

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