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Roadside memorials affect driver behaviour

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A new study conducted by the Schulich School of Engineering at the Univer-sity of Calgary indicates that in the short term, roadside memorials may actually prompt improved driver behaviour at intersections.

The study observed driver red-light-running behaviour at selected intersections in the city where mock memorials were set up. Significant changes were observed in the six weeks following the installation of the mock memorials when compared to the six weeks prior.

"We found that at locations where we set up the memorials, red-light running behaviour decreased significantly, about 17 per cent and it is statistically significant," said Schulich's Alberta Motor Association road safety research chair Dr. Richard Tay.

The study also took place at two similar intersections in Calgary, one with a roadside memorial, one without. Over six weeks, red-light-running behaviour was documented and the study revealed an increase in red-light running at the site with no memorial and a decrease where there was a mock memorial.

"We are confident that this drop is actually quite real," said Tay, admitting it is a hard topic for the city to deal with. "The city has received quite a few complaints from a certain segment of the public, but with the results, I hope the city will come with a more sensible policy that accommodates both sides."

Tay suggested controls such as time limits, size and type of materials included in the memorial.

"There is no reason to ban them outright, but it's important to also keep it controlled," said Tay. "We don't want dangerous obstacles to be put by the side of the road that may affect the cyclists, pedestrians or the maintenance crew."

The city currently has no policy, but Ward 13 Alderman Diane Colley-Urquhart proposed a motion to the city, hoping they will review both her own and Tay's recommendations and pass a policy by February 2009. She would like to see policy that limits memorials to one year, while Tay's findings claim the public thinks a month is long enough.

"You realize the importance of when people die, they have to mark the spot where someone passed away, where they took their last breath," said Colley-Urquhart, who worked as a nurse and chaired the Fatality Review Board in Alberta.

"It's really important to have a policy on this," said Colley-Urquhart. "It may seem like a small thing when you're talking about big budgets, but these are the human things we need to do to show that we really care."

U of C faculty of nursing associate professor Dr. Nancy Moules said memorials are a way for the living to lay a claim and testimony for someone they loved.

"In my practice, bereaved family members often desperately seek for some purpose and meaning to the tragic loss, to any loss really and sometimes this takes the shape of feeling an ethical and moral obligation to remind others that tragedy can happen out of carelessness," said Moules.

Tay believes roadside memorials gives a message to drivers that intersections can be hazardous.

"Red-light-running behaviour is very dangerous, so when they get that reminder . . . drivers seem to take that message positively," he said.

Tay believes that with a sensible policy, the public will feel more comfortable with roadside memorials and know that they are not a hazard.

Correction: In the original version of this story part of a quote was misattributed. The original section read:

U of C faculty of nursing associate professor Dr. Nancy Moules said memorials are a way for the living to lay a claim and testimony for someone they loved.

"It's really important to have a policy on this," said Moules. "It may seem like a small thing when you're talking about big budgets, but these are the human things we need to do to show that we really care. In my practice, bereaved family members often desperately seek for some purpose and meaning to the tragic loss, to any loss really and sometimes this takes the shape of feeling an ethical and moral obligation to remind others that tragedy can happen out of carelessness."

rather than the correct:

"It's really important to have a policy on this," said Colley-Urquhart. "It may seem like a small thing when you're talking about big budgets, but these are the human things we need to do to show that we really care."

U of C faculty of nursing associate professor Dr. Nancy Moules said memorials are a way for the living to lay a claim and testimony for someone they loved.

"In my practice, bereaved family members often desperately seek for some purpose and meaning to the tragic loss, to any loss really and sometimes this takes the shape of feeling an ethical and moral obligation to remind others that tragedy can happen out of carelessness," said Moules.

The Gauntlet apologizes for any confusion.

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