In approving a final version of a new program to issue standardized roadside memorials on county roads, the Lancaster County Board of Commissioners in Nebraska passed a well-intended rule change.
Problem is, many otherwise law-abiding citizens won't follow it. Some will simply be unaware of its existence, while others will elect to erect their own memorial as a better means of commemorating a crash victim.
Grieving families are struggling enough following a fatal traffic accident, and their healing process depends greatly on being able express their memories of a lost loved on their own terms. Lancaster County, however, is requiring the memorials to be uniform.
But grief is not uniform, no matter how much the county commissioners want it to appear that way, at least outwardly, through these markers.
The Lincoln Journal Star editorial board shares the concerns of Commissioner Jennifer Brinkman, the only board member to vote against the proposal: Loved ones will still leave private, unofficial memorials that don’t comply with the new rules.
Crosses, balloons, Teddy bears, photos — these are staples by which families and friends honor people who died far too soon. They provide a tangible, personal reminder that the victim of a car crash will be remembered. People accustomed to these memorials see nothing wrong with them, even though they're no longer permitted in Lancaster County.
Despite ample news coverage of this change, those who cope by remembering their loved ones killed in crashes on county roads will almost certainly continue to do so in either ignorance or defiance of the program’s regulations. Displays that represent safety hazards absolutely should be removed, but we’re skeptical of the harm caused by, say, a singular crucifix, maintained by family, along the shoulder.
The intent to educate the public about the costs of unsafe driving is noble. The rectangular, blue signs will present one of four safety messages: Please Drive Safely; Seat Belts Save Lives; Please Watch for Bicyclists; or Don’t Drink and Drive.
The final result, however, appears to involve a solution in search of a problem — even after the commissioners correctly decided to make the memorials free. We’re sympathetic to Lancaster County’s aims with this program, but the outcome is more likely to restrict people’s expression of grief and cause undue heartache for those already hurting from a loss.
Educating and making the roads safer to prevent future accidents are commendable goals. But clamping down on this common coping mechanism for those grieving a loss strikes us as the wrong way to achieve them.
-- Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star