Roadside Memorials in the Community A Scientific Study of Roadside Memorials Art Jipson, PhD. University of Dayton, CJS Program
Driving to work I noticed roadside memorials along my commute from Oxford to Dayton
I became interested in
the symbolic, emotional, social, and criminological components to these memorials
Figuring out Roadside Memorials
The project has focused on ascertaining the reasons that led some people to erect a commemoration to a loved one or a friend who died as a result of an automobile accident.
The research has taken multiple tracks:
(1) Interviewing erectors of memorials,
(2) individuals who are connected to the memorials,
(3) content analysis of written material on roadside and other memorials,
(4) and collection and analysis of data on the laws in the fifty states.
Interview Data I have interviewed 309 individuals involved in 127 Memorials (not all are listed below due to confidentiality requirements)
West Virginia (15)
North Carolina (24)
South Carolina (15)
Demographics of Erectors
Race 70% white, 20% African-American, 10% Hispanic or Mexican-American
Kinship 95% family members, 5% friends or others
Gender 80% erected by women
Class 70% of erectors earn less than $120,000 annually
I have also conducted content analysis on 137 newspaper and print articles, television and radio programs, and letters to the editors written on roadside memorials.
This analysis has helped contextualize roadside memorials in the local and national consciousness.
In addition, I have also reviewed the scholarly literature in literature, criminology, popular culture, cultural geography, and sociology on roadside memorials and other forms of spontaneous public commemoration.
Little written on Roadside Memorials
Little scholarly work has focused on roadside memorials.
Instead research has focused on well-known large projects such as sanctioned historical markers or approved grieving spaces (such as national cemeteries)
Why erect a Roadside Memorial?
Warning about danger
In all of my interviews, the roadside memorial is an addition to a conventional gravestone.
It does not replace a gravestone in a cemetery
The Memorial is Powerful
For every single person involved in erecting a memorial that I have interviewed, all of them stated that the roadside memorial was more meaningful to them than a gravestone in a cemetery.
Owensboro, KY Memorial
SR 127 Ohio
SR 127 Ohio
Massachusetts Memorial 2
Massachusetts Memorial 3
MA Memorial 3, note the car part
MA Memorial 3, note the objects
MA Memorial 3, long shot
Massachusetts Memorial 6
A memorial near the Dayton Mall It is important to note that as is demonstrated in the pictures that follow that some memorials can be quite elaborate in a variety of ways.
A Roadside Memorial from Hamilton, Ohio
A memorial near downtown Hamilton, Ohio Even small memorials demonstrate attention to detail and obvious care.
A Memorial on Ohio SR 127/73
Organization (mostly crosses)
Flowers (plastic and real)
Personal notes, mementos,
Personal items of the deceased
Roadside Memorials and the Law
Finally, in order to understand the influence of roadside memorials, I have begun to survey all 50 state Attorneys General and transportation departments on each state’s laws that pertain to roadside memorials.
Different States have different Laws
State and local governments have responded differently to roadside memorials.
West Virginia, for example has explicit legislation meant to regulate the size and placement of these memorials in its borders.
Other states, such as Ohio, view roadside memorials as a hindrance to travel and therefore consider them illegal.
Variability of State Laws
Not all states have legislation that directly applies to roadside memorials.
More frequently, state law avoids direct comment on roadside memorials and only intervenes if the memorial becomes an obstruction to traffic.
Recent legislation: Indiana, Alaska
As I began interviewing individuals and family members who erected roadside memorials it became increasingly apparent that county and local law enforcement are often unwilling to remove a memorial –
Law Enforcement and Removal
Removal happens infrequently even if there is some vocal opposition in the community and even in some circumstance where some in a community consider it a distraction (and a distracting commemoration would be illegal in all states)
Law enforcement does not want to appear to be insensitive to the feelings of the bereaved.
Thanks for Listening…
Please feel free to write to me about Roadside Memorials @