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Decorated roadside signs can create hazards and will be removed

by Jim Kelly
| March 23, 2022 12:00 AM

The American Legion Fatality Marker Program, formerly known as the White Cross Program, has operated under policies and procedures in place since 1952. Many of us grew up with the highway safety program and may have counted the “crosses” as we rode the bus to school.

Montana American Legion Fatality Marker Program is an authorized highway safety program designed to mark the location of a fatal crash. They are not intended to be private memorials.

In addition to the original guidance issued by Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) specified no advertising; no reflect paint; solar lights, strobe lights or other devices; and no wreathes or decorations placed upon the crosses. There should be no decorating or writing of any kind on the Markers.

We get letters and phone calls indicating “their” marker has been vandalized by having the decorations removed or stating the marker has been removed. Case in point, some markers are so heavily decorated for each season of the year, they are no longer recognized as Fatality Markers and have been reported as being a distraction.

Fatality Markers are made, installed, and maintained by the Montana American Legion, at no cost to the public; and remain the property of the American Legion.

Unauthorized signs are prohibited within the public right-of-way along Montana road. Right-of-way is generally described as the area between utility poles, or fence line, on both sides of the road including the roadway, ditches, shoulders, and sidewalks.

Our Agreement with Montana Department of Transportation regulates placement and maintenance. It further stipulates Fatality Markers are not to be decorated. If decorated, they are to be removed.

American Legion members realize a family has lost a mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister, or close relative and are sensitive to the trauma surrounding death and a need to grieve.

As such, many of us allow small decorations to be placed at the base of the support post during the first year.

Decorations placed during succeeding years are respectfully removed and discarded. We don’t have facilities to store decorations.

Spring brings more than flowers. It also brings out volunteers for the highway clean-up program, highway maintenance crews, and members of the American Legion as they begin maintaining and installing Fatality Markers.

Remember “move over” where crews are working. Montana law requires drivers to move into the lane that is furthest from workers on the side of the road and slow down to an appropriate speed.

Jim Kelly is Fatality Marker Chairman at The American Legion of Montana.

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