Advertise while honoring the dead

Roadside suggestions not to kill yourself driving seem to be getting more humorous around here, which suggests that someone is trying to improve them. The best advertisements for careful driving I’ve seen are the little white stick crosses tied to trees and telegraph poles with withered flowers and photographs. I doubt I’m alone in finding the death of a real person smashed into a telegraph pole on my usual route more of a prompt to be careful than an actor looking stern at me or a pun (‘slowing down won’t kill you’). Plus nothing makes an activity feel safe like a gargantuan authority calmly informing me of the risks of it. If the government’s advertising something, everyone knows about it, and if there’s no panic or banning, it’s probably safe. A bedraggled, unprepared memorial is a reminder that ‘they’ aren’t really protecting me.

But how could a road authority use these? They could either increase the number or the visibility of them. The usual methods of increasing the number defeat the purpose, and inventing fatal crashes might make people cross. Making memorials more visible is hard, because they are put up by families, besides which the home-made look is valuable, so billboard versions wouldn’t do so well. One solution is just to give bereaved families a bit of the money they usually use on a billboard to construct a temporary memorial of their choice at the site. That way more people would do it, and they could afford more extravagant decoration, so enhancing visibility.

16 responses to “Advertise while honoring the dead

  1. Yes, as with terrorism and medicine, here we seem to prefer that our high status leaders try lamely to do things that we could do more efficiently by subsidizing ordinary people. I’ll post more on this soon at OB.

  2. A good picture of an actual memorial on a billboard ad with some text might work better. That would increase visibility without making it lose its sincerity.

  3. I would just like to express that I think this is a brilliant and tasteful idea.

    Also agreed with Sridhar, in terms of ideas that aren’t contingent on more people dying. The text would have to be minimal, I imagine.

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  5. In Germany, in addition to crosses on the side of the Autobahn, I saw many posters of people holding large photos of their parents and spouses lost to auto accidents. No idea if this works — the first sight was a shock, then you get used to seeing them.

  6. That’s the thing, Buck … We don’t have billboards at all in Maine or NH, so I can’t comment on that side of things, but I think I’ve gotten _used_ to seeing the homemade memorials over many years, so that they have little or no effect on me — as sad as that is for each individual and each family whose life _has_ truly been affected by highway deaths and accidents.

    Another thing that feels awful to say but seems true for me is that I don’t think I would erect a cross or memorial alongside the highway if someone I loved were killed there, and therefore I think (subconsciously, usually) that I am different enough from the people who do erect memorials that what befell them probably won’t befall me. Logically, I know that’s inaccurate, and I know that I or someone I love is as likely to be killed on the highway as anyone else, but as a signal or cue, I don’ t think that the roadside memorials don’t work well for me.

    What works very well for me is (1) actually seeing an accident occur or be narrowly avoided; (2) narrowly avoiding an accident myself; (3) statistics.

  7. I’d like to see some metrics on site. A simple sign with a number showing how many people had died within the sign’s zone. And a serial number I could use to look up all the police reports online.
    Instead the glass and blood are washed away and no one can tell the intersection needs a stoplight.

  8. You’ll probably slow down and drive a tad better after watching this – I did.

  9. Memorials might make you a safer driver but it probably won’t do much for those prone to accidents. Namely drunk or distracted drivers are different from you since you are aware enough to see those road signs, etc.

    Even while driving in a recent snow storm and seeing multiple cars off the side of the road, I remember slowing slightly but I’m sure the correct action was not to be driving in the first place. Examples had little effect on my real actions.

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  11. Not clear that it’s because we actually prefer high status people doing it, or that high status people by definition influence the process and prefer to enhance their status by doing it.

  12. I’d like to see a Google map with all the accidents on it to find the dangerous zones. I saw one for fatalities once but it was very limited.

  13. Slightly out of date (2005), but some interesting differences between how states handle private/public markers, etc.

  14. Here in Alberta, we were actually having a debate on how long people should be *allowed* to keep up their memorials, because of all the flagrant abuse…

  15. Greg Cynaumon, Ph.D

    This is something to ponder.

  16. Are homemade memorials more effective? Here the state puts up black wooden outlines of standing adult men where people died in a crash, and I don’t consciously feel worse when I see flowers or another family-made memorial. I however feel pressured (thus angry, rebellious, contrarian) by billboards identifying a person who died, with age and picture.

    Billboards with numbers are obviously less effective, because they’re Far and driving is Near, also scope insensitivity.


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