I watched last night’s BBC2 documentary In Loving Memory on roadside memorials to road crash fatalities. It was basically a study of the sociology and psychology of the grieving process and how roadside memorials have substituted for more conventional religious memorials in a secular society. It included an account of the ghost bike set up in memory of London cyclist Eilidh Cairns.
It was a programme which I found thin in substance (the material could have been reduced from one hour to 30 minutes without losing anything), though at times upsetting to watch. We heard of opposition to roadside memorials from both local authorities and members of the public, who claimed they were ‘a distraction’. Some local authorities remove them on Health and Safety grounds. I would have liked to have seen someone who believes in the ‘distraction’ argument putting their case, but presumably no council officer or councillor had the courage to do so.
Me, I think anyone who wants to set up a roadside memorial should be allowed to do so. These memorials will all eventually go in the end as people grow old, die or move away, and if it helps the bereaved to cope, let them have them. They also provide a visible reminder of the road carnage that all the institutions in our society prefer to marginalise and sanitize.
The ‘distraction’ argument seems to me wholly spurious in a society which is not particularly concerned about the epidemic of drivers who steer with one hand while chatting on handheld mobile phones. SatNavs are likewise a distraction but again no one gives a damn. The idea that a ghost bike or a collection of flowers at the roadside might distract a driver seems to me ludicrous. No one in authority objects to giant hoardings promoting cars or booze, or advertising panels obstructively plonked down in pavements, which are designed to catch the eye of passing drivers.
The circumstances of how these road fatalities occurred was barely mentioned. In one case an eighteen year old girl ‘lost control’ of a car when it hit water at the roadside, aquaplaned, crashed into another car, and then burst into flames. Tragedies like this happen with sickening regularity but no one ever discusses the way in which teenagers are given control of vehicles which now have the power that racing cars once had, vehicles deliberately designed to go at speeds well in excess of the national speed limit and which teenage drivers are too immature and inexperienced to handle.
I noticed how one set of bereaved parents had a 4X4 parked in front of their house, suggesting that consideration of the health and safety of other road users was not something which had intruded into their grief.
At the site of the memorial to Ashley O’Brien there was a cycle lane. I noticed how a passing HGV drifted into it as it passed by, suggesting that the road was too narrow to safely accommodate a cyclist and an overtaking articulated lorry. But the programme wasn’t about that kind of thing.
As the old saying has it, ‘don’t mourn – organise’ – which is how that formidable and impressive organisation RoadPeace came into being.