The erection of roadside tributes to people who die in traffic accidents may soon be outlawed if the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) gets its way.
The agency deems these memorials, which often consist of a few flowers or wreaths or sometimes a more permanent marker such as a cross or plaque, as posing safety hazards along roads.
South Africa, with a high road accident toll, has also seen an increasing tendency for relatives and friends to place flowers and other tributes at the scene of fatal accidents.
Sanral communications manager Connie Nel said on Tuesday that in the interests of motorists' safety, the agency could not continue allowing personal memorials to be set up beside national roads.
"This is an extremely sensitive issue and we have a policy that allows a period of public mourning for the families of accident victims," she said.
"Our mandate is to keep the national roads safe and clean and we urge motorists to adhere to this rule."
Nel said the initiative was not new, but a longstanding arrangement.
Sanral had a 24-hour "routine maintenance team responsible for the 16 000km of the national road network".
"The team remove any obstacles on the roads that pose a hazard to motorists," she said.
"They remove advertising, which is banned by law, and also remove the memorials after the families have been allowed time to grieve."
Wayne Smith, Cape Town deputy director of emergency and medical services, said that roadside memorials had a vital role to play in road safety awareness.
"Speaking for myself, I respond to many accidents and I think anything that reminds motorists of the importance of safe driving should be kept," he said.
"I think when motorists see those crosses, they tend to alter their driving.
"I think the memorials should stay, as long as they are placed (so as) not to obstruct the traffic."
Smith said the memorials were especially useful on stretches of road that were particularly dangerous.
Nel said, however, there were legal traffic signs specifically to warn of potential hazards and that cemeteries were the best place to remember the dead.
The roadside "sacred places", unlike cemeteries, usually served only as places for immediate grieving and tended not to be maintained.
While the National Road Traffic Act did not allow advertising on the national roads, the law had no express provision to license or permit memorials on the national roads.
The origins of roadside memorials are sketchy, but Smith said they appeared all over the world.
"I know that in Australasia - and in particular in New Zealand, with its very low accident rate - the practice is very common," he said.
- This article was originally published on page 1 of Cape Times on October 25, 2006