Lincoln, Neb. — To families of people killed in car accidents, they are tender, spontaneous memorials to loved ones whose lives were cut short.
But state officials say makeshift roadside memorials on state-owned rights of way can be a dangerous distraction to drivers.
The Department of Roads is considering new rules that would let people pay for a state-issued sign encouraging driver safety to replace the makeshift memorials. State workers would also step up removal of the homemade memorials.
"Not only can they be distracting to drivers, but it's also dangerous when people pull over to the side of the road who either want to look or put something out," said Mary Jo Oie, spokeswoman for the state Department of Roads.
Oie pointed to a 2004 accident in west Omaha, where television cameraman Jeff Frolio was killed while working on a story about an intersection where two teens had died in a month.
Frolio came to the intersection to get images of a roadside memorial to the teens and was hit by a passing car.
One of the teens was 15-year-old Kayla Wilkins. Her father, Craig Wilkins, said a memorial near the intersection was removed a few weeks after her death so another was erected by a carpenter and it still stands.
Wilkins said he was assured by then-Gov. Mike Johanns and roads officials that the new one would be allowed to stay.
"I'm not upset at the state, they're just trying to do their job, but if they remove my daughter's memorial and ask me to pay for a sign, I'll say no," Wilkins said of the rules being considered.
The state doesn't need to change the law: It's already illegal to erect memorials and signs in state rights of way.
But there is an unwritten "don't ask, don't tell" policy where the state turns a blind eye to the memorials, said Oie, and they don't go around looking for illicit memorials.
Instead, road maintenance crews often just pick them up while mowing ditches and doing other work, then put them in maintenance shops. They stay there for a time in case families come looking for the memorials.