This is a subject that is raised in the media from time to time. Usually with some Road Safety group or other saying that they should be removed/banned, as they are an uneccessary and dangerous distraction to drivers.
Before I get too worked up, let me preface this by saying that I am usually a passenger - although I am currently working on rectifying that issue. And noticing these things more.
As a passenger, I notice the memorials, and they make me sad. Not too far from here, on the road out of town, there is a whopping 8foot metal cross, outlined in hi-vis (lights up when headlights hit it) paint. In the day, it's not obvious - at night, you can't miss it. On the other side of the road out of town, on those high-tension wires, sits a floral memorial. This one, you can't miss during the day. Both are visible from 50+ metres on a clear day. The cross, you can see in driving rain.
What you can't see, at least not properly, are the markers the Government apparently puts out to mark accident spots. A black one with a white coffin for deaths, and a red one with a white cross for injuries. They are about the size of the reflectors on the roadside posts, and are in fact attached to the posts. Along with the reflectors. It took some doing, but I eventually found one. I see the big signs telling me they are there often though.
According to lobbyists, these are safer than roadside memorials, as they are less obtrusive. Errrr, no. A flash, seen out of the corner of your eye, is MORE of a distraction, because your mind has to process what it could have been; rather than ' What? Oh, memorial. Poor bastards', you've got, 'WTF? Was that a ..........? No. Then what the Hell was it? Was it important?' going on. Which takes a damn sight longer (and more brain power) than 'What? Oh, memorial. Poor bastards.'
If you want to reduce distraction, how about removing extraneous signage? Those damn flashing signs that you only used to see announcing roadworks, but are now used to advertise the latest special at the pub, are a ginormous hazard. Brain says 'Roadworks sign' and you are distracted from driving, only to be reading about the cheap meals at the pub down the road. Not a hazard at all. Billboards aren't quite as bad, although sometimes, their placement leaves a lot to be desired. Ditto actual road signs - put 'em where they can be seen easily!
My final thought on the whole thing, is that those who make the noise, should actually look in their own backyard. 2 police officers in the past 12 months, both members of the Road Safety Taskforce, killed while driving at high speeds (200+ kmh) after drinking at their respective police station bars. To the point of at least 3 times the legal blood alcohol limit. The only fortunate thing is that neither took anyone else with them.
Allow those who wish to put up memorials to do so, fix stupid speed limit changes - the one in Victoria with something like a dozen changes in 10km is a classic example, police the black spots, ban extraneous signage, and slow down!
And for the record, the (straight, flat) section of road where that monster cross is, used to be a black spot. Since the inception of the cross, there have been no fatalities on that stretch of road. Accidents caused by stupid speed limit changes (from 110 to 80 to 110 to 90 to 80 in about 2km), but no more fatalities. Food for thought, doncha reckon?!
Added 7th January 2011 - so today, we drove around 600km+. Saw 7 roadside memorials and not one Government sanctioned marker - plenty of their signs, but no markers. And a Road Safety Taskforce car, with the driver cruising along at 110kmh, chatting on their mobile phone - non-handsfree.
While I was at it, I counted the signs 1km either side of the giant cross - roadsigns, advertising, the whole shebang. 20 when heading South (so on the same side as the cross), 34 heading North (opposite side of the road). So, in a 2km distance, that's 54 signs. Plus driveways, a roundabout, and a crossroads. Oh, and 4 cars for sale parked near the hospital at the roundabout. And 3 speed changes in that same space.