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Collier County Traffic Fatalities -- Maps, Database
Last of a three-day series
Across the country, the signs of loved ones lost are everywhere, from crosses placed by the American Legion in Montana to South Dakota’s diamond-shaped “Why die?” signs to Florida’s round, personalized “Drive Safely” markers.
Although federal law prohibits placing makeshift memorials, or anything else, in the right of way on its highways, states are permitted to legislate their own policy on signs marking fatalities.
Debbie Tower, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Transportation, said Florida’s tribute signs were deliberately designed to be homogenous in 1997.
“We created a design that was non-denominational for obvious reasons,” she said, of the round, 15-inch-diameter aluminum signs on 5-foot poles. “We were sensitive to that. People are appreciative of the remembrance.”
Fifty-two of the Sunshine State’s memorial markers are posted along Collier County state and federal highways.
The markers feature a white background and black letters reading, “Drive Safely, In Memory,” followed by the deceased’s full name.
Requests for memorial markers may be made by immediate family members or friends, with requests from friends requiring the approval of the deceased’s immediate family.
Tower said it is up to each district’s operations manager to determine whether and where to place a memorial marker.
Sometimes the markers aren’t placed at the exact location of the fatality, due to restricted space, safety concerns, property owner complaints or other constraints. The department installs markers only on designated state roads and doesn’t have the authority to place them on city or county roadways.
Memorial markers will not be erected where they are prohibited by the local governmental entity.
“The field manager has to decide if it’s too close to an intersection or sidewalk or utilities,” she said. “People were putting markers in completely inappropriate places. In North Fort Myers, I remember that someone anchored a cross in the ground with a 10-gallon can of cement. Obviously, that didn’t meet specifications.”
To avoid people taking such measures into their own hands, the state not only approves locations, but pays for the creation and installation of the markers, which are manufactured at a DOT sign center.
“It’s a relatively inexpensive program,” Tower said. “We work smart. Our maintenance crews can install them very quickly, but we do it as a part of regular work assignments in an area.”
For that reason, there may lag time of up to two months from approval of a request to installation, said Stu Myer, a DOT roadside specialist.
Myer recommended those wishing to have a marker established for a loved one make their request within two years of the fatality. Under state policy, the marker remains at the site for one year unless it has to be moved for construction or maintenance.
He said families can request that the sign stay up longer, but approval depends on several factors.
“If we left all those signs up forever, we’d have polka dots up and down the highway,” Myer said.
Collier County has no policy regarding standardized memorials on local roads, but transportation agency spokeswoman Connie Deane said placing homemade tributes in the right of way isn’t permitted.
While the “Drive Safely” portion of Florida’s memorial markers is relatively easy to read, the names of the fatality victim can be difficult to read from the roadway without slowing down.
Tower warns drivers not do that, adding that decoration of the signs is also discouraged for safety reasons.
“We worry a lot about untrained people working in the rights of way. We had so many instances of people pulling off the highway to place memorials at the scene of fatal car accident that it became a hazardous situation,” she said. “We recognized that people wanted to remember loved ones lost and also remind people to drive safely.”
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