A recent letter to the editor published in The Union suggested area residents who have lost loved ones in accidents on Highway 174 should place memorials along the roadway in their memory.
Though a thoughtful tribute, such an act would not be a good idea, nor is it legal, says a representative of the California Department of Transportation.
“Obviously, we’ve had tragedies on that highway, and we don’t want to add to that,” said Caltrans spokesperson Rochelle Jenkins. “We’re neighbors and friends, and we do understand where they’re coming from, but it’s a double-edged sword for us because although we support the families, it’s not a safe thing to do.”
Connie Reisenweber wrote to The Union to remind motorists of the importance of safe driving and to urge others to place memorials for their loved ones who died on the highway in an accident, such as her own husband. She said she had placed a cross on the highway in his honor, but it was removed the following morning by Caltrans.
Jenkins said such removals are standard practice, as outdoor advertisements or structures are not allowed along state highways, including the winding stretch of Highway 174 between Colfax and Grass Valley.
“It all falls under the same thing as political signs not being allowed on the highways,” Jenkins said. “As soon as they put them up, we’re chasing behind them and picking them up.”
As single-car accidents are reportedly on the rise due to distracted driving, often due to text-messaging or other use of smart phones, Jenkins said such roadway memorials create another potential distraction.
“(Highway 174) is a rural road that does take a lot of attention,” she said. “Anything that takes the driver’s attention away from the road is not a good thing.
“It’s just another element of distraction. People will naturally step off the gas and brake to see (such memorials), and they’ll even veer to the side. It’s a natural thing to veer the vehicle to where you are looking.”
Caltrans encourages loved ones of crash victims to memorialize their loved ones by showing support of organizations or causes they were passionate about, Jenkins said.
“That way we’re remembering what they were passionate about,” she said, “and not where we lost them.”