Special signs are available to increase the public’s awareness of driving while impaired or to honor those who lost their lives in the service of others including fallen veterans, police officers, public servants and individuals killed in action. Numerous programs by the Illinois Department of Transportation also administers fatal accident memorials signs for fatalities occurring on Illinois highways after December 31, 1989.
Makeshift Roadside Memorials
There is a story of heart break behind every handmade roadside shrine or cross that appears along major roads and freeways by surviving families remembering a loved one who died in a fatal accident. Every year, more of these sacred shrines with messages, trinkets, flowers, and mementos appear along the road at the spot where the accident occurred. Some of these public markers are simple in design while others ornate and permanent with each one displaying the private grief and emotional suffering of those left behind.
Constructing roadway memorials to honor the victims of horrific accidents is nothing new. However, their numbers have increased significantly in recent years where families bring flowers and tributes to mourn the life of someone they loved before tragedy transformed the location into a sacred spot.
Many of these memorials are crafted with a cross or plaque that displays the name of the victim and the day they left their earthly restraint. Most have clumps of silk flowers strapped to the post or marker that appears like a grave site commonly found in most cemeteries. Newly installed memorials are typically adorned with photographs, messages, balloons, and personal items like baseball mitts, stuffed animals or dolls. Almost all have a special memorial message like “Rest in Peace” on the wooden post, cross, or tombstone signed by surviving loved ones.
Remembering those who lost their lives in roadside accidents by marking the spot as a spiritual place remains relevant long after the loved one dies and the emotional mourning has eased as daily life returns to somewhat normal. Apart from daily travelers providing tacit approval of allowing these markers to remain, many local governments are in a quandary about allowing or restricting these roadside memorials. However, the state government of Illinois has taken a different approach by requiring Illinois Department of Transportation to erect memorial markers on state highways.
IDOT Issues Temporary Roadside Memorials Signs
Back in 2010, Governor Pat Quinn signed a legislative bill 92 Illinois Adm. Code 549 into law requiring the state’s Department of Transportation to sell temporary roadside signs that could be placed along State Highway by surviving family members. This law expanded the existing Roadside Memorial Act that became effective on the first day of 2011. Previously, state law allowed temporary roadside memorials only for families who lost a loved one in a DUI crash along state highways by another motorist who was driving intoxicated. In addition to providing an extension of the law from drunk driving to drunk driving and reckless driving, the new law reads:
“The fatal accident memorial marker program is intended to raise public awareness of reckless driving by emphasizing the dangers while affording families an opportunity to remember the victims of crashes involving reckless drivers.”
The law was expanded to victims who died by reckless homicide in violation of State criminal codes. This includes victims who lost their life by the reckless operation of a motor vehicle driven by another unless the victim’s toxicology report violated the states driving under the influence law. However, there’s an exception for the surviving family of other victims involved in the crash who lost their lives through the reckless action or intoxication of the driver at fault.
The expansion of the new law still allows family members who lost a loved one by a driver who was under the influence of drugs or alcohol to participate in the DUI Memorial Commemorative Plaque program. This program works identically to the fatal accident memorial sign program except that the sign posted above the family’s sign noting the victim and the date of death reads “PLEASE DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE.”
The 24” tall x 36” wide memorial sign is constructed with white letters reading “RECKLESS DRIVING COST LIVES” on a blue background, which is posted along this State Highway with a sign underneath. The lower 18” by 36” wide commemorative plaque is constructed with white letters reading “IN MEMORY OF” followed by the name of the deceased victim along with the date of the accident.
The Illinois Department of Transportation Fatal Accident Memorial Application states that one marker “may memorialize more than one victim who died as a result of the same crash. If one or more additional, unrelated reckless driving death subsequently occurred in close proximity to an existing commemorative plaque, the [IDOT] reserves the right to use the same marker to memorialize the subsequent death or deaths, by adding names of the additional persons on the Commemorative Plaques.”
Participating in the Program
Only immediate family members who lost a loved one in a crash on an Illinois highway caused by a careless driver convicted of reckless homicide can apply to the program to receive a temporary roadside memorial sign. Family members interested in applying need to fill out the Fatal Memorial Marker Application that will be reviewed by the Illinois Department of Transportation. Currently, the state agency requires $50 for the commemorative plaque with the deceased victim’s name and an additional $150 for the RECKLESS DRIVING COST LIVES memorial sign posted above the family’s plaque.
The state allows the installation of the memorial sign to be near or at the location of the accident. However, the designated sign location may be changed if there are safety concerns, interference with traffic control equipment or other restrictions. Interested parties can contact the state by calling (217) 785-8534 or through the mail at:
Illinois Department of Transportation
Roadside Memorial Sign Coordinator
2300 S. Dirksen Pkwy., Room 9
Springfield, IL 62704
A Deterrent to Reckless Driving
Permanent and temporary roadside memorials posted in memory of a loved one killed by a careless driver serves as a deterrent to reckless driving. The reminder of a horrific accident occurring at that site can affect traveling motorists and hopefully save lives. It is often the desperate plea of grieving families that today’s motorists will drive with more care and consideration by recognizing that careless actions on the roadway can cause other families unimaginable grief.
In addition to providing a place to mourn, these memorials can be used to promote safer driving. The short-term safety impact on the traveling public can provide a long-term positive effect on better driving behavior along congested highways, curved roads, and busy intersections. These memorials can serve as a reminder that people should never drink and drive because it always has the potential of causing a senseless accident that ends in severe injury and death to innocent victims.
Heroes Way Designation Program
The Illinois General Assembly enacted the Heroes Way Designation Program Bill that was signed in the law that allows installing signage that dedicate segments of the state highway, interchanges, and bridges to fallen Illinois heroes. The Act reads:
“This Act establishes a designation program, to be known as the ‘Heroes Way Designation Program’, to honor the fallen Illinois heroes who have been killed in action while performing active military duty with the United States Armed Forces.”
Any immediate family member of a fallen Illinois Arms Force Member killed in action can request a memorial sign so long as the deceased is listed on the National Gold Star Family Registry. All interested parties should fill out an official program application form for approval by the Illinois DOT after a review. All approved applications will require a legislative sponsor and a state legislative resolution that officially adopts the memorial designation for a segment of the highway, interchange, or bridge.
Once the family’s roadway commemorative plaque resolution is officially adopted by the state legislature, the applicants must pay a $1000 fee for two signs installed at the location in areas with “posted speed limits over 55 miles an hour.” The fee for signs posted in areas under 55 mph is $200 for two signs. Once the application has been approved, the designation adopted by the state legislature, and the fees are paid, the Illinois DOT will install one sign in each direction at the location “designated in the resolution.”
These memorials honor fallen heroes through an everlasting tribute in remembering a life well lived. This permanent gift serves as an enduring reminder for future generations of their heroism. The sign helps families, friends and the local community remember the dedication of their past generation.
The Dangers of Roadside Memorials
The expansion of the previous law was needed because these memorials are crucial to many families during the grieving process. Additionally, makeshift memorials can pose a significant danger to anyone who stops to view the marker along the road or by causing a distraction to other motorists. In Illinois, it is still illegal to stop on the side of most state highways unless it is an emergency or the vehicle breaks down on the roadway or shoulder.