AUSTIN - To help inform the public of the dangers of drinking and driving, a new program is being implemented by the Texas Department of Transportation that will allow friends and family members of DWI victims to purchase memorial signs to be placed near the location of fatal crashes.

The program is the result of legislation aimed at reducing the more than 1,670 traffic fatalities in 2006 that involved drivers a under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The 80th Texas Legislature created the program at the request of Julie Blasingame. A drunk driver was involved in the death of Blasingame’s daughter, Rachel.

“I would love to see these memorial signs all over Texas as constant reminders for our drivers to not drink and drive,” said Blasingame, who will be the first participant in the program. “So many grieving families will want to honor their loved one’s memory in this way because they know that good will come from it. They know their loved one won’t be forgotten and it will cause many drivers to think about how their actions affect others. Nearly every family in Texas knows someone who has been affected by a drunk driver.”

The legislation creating the program required TxDOT to develop administrative rules governing the operation of the program. Those rules became effective Dec. 6 and the department has published a new Web page that contains all of the information a person needs to participate in the program. The Web site is located at http://www.txdot.gov/services/traffic_operations/memorial_sign.htm.

“I am pleased that TxDOT has taken this important step to help raise public awareness on the dangers of DWI,” said state Rep. Betty Brown. “Drunk driving continues to be one of our state’s most serious traffic safety issues and represents a real and serious danger to innocent law-abiding members of our communities. If this program deters even a single impaired driver from venturing out onto streets and highways, it will have served its purpose.”

The cost to obtain a memorial sign is $300, which will help TxDOT defray the cost of the sign. The sign will identify the victim (or family name), date of the crash, the phrase “Please Don’t Drink and Drive” and the phrase “In Memory of … .”

The program requires that fatal crashes must have occurred on a state highway and bans memorializing impaired drivers killed in a traffic crash.

An erected memorial sign will remain in place for one year, after which it will be offered to the person(s) who made the original application for participation in the program.

Memorial Markers in the ROW

TxDOT guidelines allow the department to authorize the placement of a memorial marker for any traffic-related fatality to be placed in highway right of way at or near traffic fatality locations. Previously, TxDOT guidelines permitted the placement of memorial markers within highway right of way only for individuals killed in alcohol- or drug-related fatalities. A request to place a marker should be submitted by a victim’s family to the nearest TxDOT area maintenance office.

Requestors should meet with TxDOT to determine the exact placement of a marker to ensure proper and safe placement. Someone other than a family member may submit the request as long as it includes written permission from the victim’s family.

Markers must be constructed from wood and may take the shape of various symbols. Size is limited to 30 inches in height and 18 inches in width. These construction and size limitations will help increase safety for motorists should a marker be hit by a vehicle. If a marker presents a potential safety hazard to the public or a maintenance problem, TxDOT personnel will remove it immediately or relocate it within the right of way.

Attempts will be made to determine and contact the marker’s owner prior to disposal. Markers removed from the right of way will be kept 30 days before final disposal.

“We want to make sure that we allow family members the opportunity to memorialize loved ones in a safe and reasonable manner,” a TxDOT spokesman said. “It is our hope that markers in highway right of way also provide an educational benefit to the traveling public.”