Roadside memorials: The crossroads of life and death
Usually, there is a cross. Sometimes there are scraps of metal, salvaged from the car that carried someone to their death. There are teddy bears and photographs; plastic flowers and hockey sticks; poetry and beer bottles.
Always, there is grief and loss.
Roadside death memorials have existed for centuries. With the rise of the automobile and modern highways, though, sudden road deaths have become routine, and so have roadside shrines. Especially among youth. Decades ago, students may have learned about a weekend car crash involving their friends when they arrived at school on Monday morning. Now, those young people may be gathered at the roadside within hours or minutes of a fatal crash, erecting a shrine.
For the most part, the structures exist in a policy grey area, with authorities turning a blind eye unless the structures interfere with traffic. Some jurisdictions have policies that provide for highway crews to remove the structures after a given time period. Often, the shrines simply crumble into the landscape, the crosses falling and other mementoes blowing away. Vandalism is not common, although there have been instances when a property owner removes a shrine over the objections of family and friends.