Roadside memorials often clash with motorists' safety

What are the rules on roadside memorials? We have one near our home which is on a very sharp, blind corner on Beebe and Gebhard roads. The loved ones are regularly adding new stuff to it, and it is a huge driving distraction. When going to work on New Year's Eve, I noticed they had added LED lights to it, and on my way home I saw a car had gone off the road next to it (two police cars responded). While I feel bad for the folks who have lost their loved one, I think their actions are having the opposite impact as to what they have intended.

— Chris, Central Point

Well, Chris, your question can be a touchy one, balancing the needs of those suffering a tragic loss with the needs of drivers seeking to travel the road safely.

"We actually discourage roadside memorials for exactly that reason," said ODOT spokesman Dave Thompson. "Technically under the law there can be no roadside memorials in the right of way."

But when it comes to enforcement, a more compassionate side shows through.

"The actual rule is not so black and white," he said.

So that they can be picked up later, ODOT maintenance workers strive to save memorial items on state highways removed in the course of maintenance or while mitigating a driving distraction.

"If it's a distraction, we have to take it down — we don't have a choice," Thompson said. "It's a very difficult thing for our maintenance folks."

Because the memorial you mentioned is on a county road, we spoke with Jackson County Roads Director John Vial, and the local policy is similar.

"That is a heart-wrenching thing for a family to go through, and we try to be sensitive to that," Vial said. "We don't give people permission, but we don't try to yank them all out."

Vial said memorials that constitute a road hazard need to be removed, and determining factors include blocking sight distance or, in your example, items with LED lights that could be misconstrued as a vehicle or traffic control device.

"Any roadside memorial that constitutes a hazard will be removed," Vial said. "Beyond that we typically don't remove these memorials."

Vial said he'd look into the memorial you pointed out, but hazards on county roadways can reported by calling Jackson County Roads at 541-774-8184.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to

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