OTTAWA †|† Nov. 4, 2005 ó They
stand by the side of French roads as reminders of deadly accidents: black
human silhouettes, their faces shattered by a blood-red lightning strike.
|Roadside memorials for people killed in car accidents
dot the countryside near Montpellier, France.
Itís a haunting image designed to make drivers in France more cautious.
Canadians will soon see different reminders with a similar purpose.
Since 2000, French municipal governments have placed the silhouettes
at the site of roadside crashes to commemorate victims of motor vehicle
In the Caribbean, skulls and cross-bones are placed by the roadside.
On Nova Scotiaís roads, a provincial government program to plant crosses
has been active since 1995.
And now in Ontario, the Ministry of Transportation plans to subsidize
a Mothers Against Drunk Driving campaign to install small rectangular
signs that bear the name of the deceased.
Silhouettes, crosses, skulls, rectangular signs. They are all different, but
the same purpose: to remind drivers of danger.
A frightening statement
In 1999, French artist Jean-Pierre Giraudís son was killed while crossing
a bridge in France. Giraud created the first silhouette design in his
garage and asked the city to install copies at crash sites.
"A car is like a grenade," Giraud told the Montpellier Art-Presse
in 2000. "It can take the lives of many people. The silhouettes exist
to remind people of that."
After his home city of Montpellier agreed to pay for the silhouettes,
the idea spread to rural districts across France. Today, the silhouettes
number in the hundreds and line roads from Normandy to Bordeaux.
A reminder of death
French drivers agree the sight is disturbing.
Saki Sakidou, a factory worker from Bordeaux, sees several silhouettes
on his daily commute.
He says the stylized image of a bloody face has made him more cautious
when driving and has made him aware of which roads are more dangerous.
"It is morbid, absolutely," Sakidou said in French during an
interview in Paris this summer.
"But when you see one, you are reminded of death. It's very serious.
There is a certain kind of reverence, almost. You can't help but decelerate."
Ontario now on board
On Oct. 21, the Ontario government approved a plan to partially fund
Julia Munro, a member of provincial parliament for North York, proposed
the idea and says the signs will be a fitting tribute to victims of drunk
She says her motion did not specify what design should be used for the
markers, leaving that to MADD Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.
"These signs will be both a memorial to the deceased and a testament
to the fact that people die unnecessarily," she says.
"I think it represents a real person. It brings that kind of poignancy."
Human shapes more effective
The Ontario signs, which will look like plaques, may not have the same
emotional impact as the black silhouettes do on drivers in France. A study
done on the French signs found they were more effective than conventional
|'It wonít stand out as much as the
other sign. But we had to work within the restrictions of the Ontario
Ministry of Transport.'
The telephone survey done by the city of Montpellier in 2004, found that
60 per cent of respondents knew of the French silhouettes.
Drivers had less recollection of rectangular yellow signs that displayed
the number of people killed on that road in recent memory. These were
simultaneously installed on the same roads at different points.
While most of those polled described the silhouettes as "frightening,"
"morbid," and "shocking," they ultimately judged the
program a good initiative.
Fifty six per cent of respondents said the silhouettes changed their
driving habits in some way, and within a year of the program, average
speeds in Montpellier actually slowed — by about two miles an hour,
which the city called "insignificant."
A slight drop in fatal crashes was also reported for Montpellier, but
no direct link to the silhouettes was established.
A Montpellier city report says, "from the letters and spontaneous
testimonies we have received, we know the tone of the program is just.
Thanks to media coverage, we can say the primary objective has been reached."
Memorials must follow rules
The design of the MADD signs in Ontario will be less dramatic than the
French silhouette, says Wanda Kristensen, from MADD's Ontario chapter.
But she says the design was limited by rules about the size and shape
of roadside panels allowed in the province.
"It wonít stand out as much as the other sign," she says. "But
we had to work within the restrictions of the Ontario Ministry of Transport."
|Deaths due to impaired driving in Canada
Kristensen says she does not care for the French design — especially
after losing her son David in an alcohol-related crash in 1996.
"Personally I would not want a black silhouette where my son was
killed," she says. Kristensen says she would be more comfortable
with MADD Canadaís signs, which she says are more respectful.
Creative solutions sought
In 2004, World Health Day was dedicated to road safety. Transport Canada
and the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators issued a report
called 'Road Safety 2010: Making Canada's Roads the Safest in the World.'
It declared Canada's automotive death toll unacceptably high.
The report suggests key points for reducing deadly accidents like the
increased use of seat belts and child restraints, a reduction in drunk
driving and a crackdown on speeding.
Creative solutions such as pedestrian countdown signs and the widening
of sidewalks are also called for in the report.
According to the report, the economic cost of traffic collisions to Canadians
is as high as $5 billion annually, when health care costs, property losses
and other factors are considered.