They are numerous enough to notice, enfrequent enough to startle at seeing, and they stimulate reverence, sorrow, sympathy, curiosity and caution. They affect us all to one degree or another. They are the white crosses that mark the sites of fatal traffic accidents along the highways of Montana. For over 50 years, these white crosses have reminded passing motorists of the dangers of the road, as well as the lives that have been lost on these highways.
The Montana American Legion White Cross Highway Fatality Marker Program in 1953. The unique idea of marking fatal traffic accident sites with a white cross was the brainchild of Floyd Eaheart, a member of Hellgate Post #27 in Missoula after 6 lives were lost in that area over the 1952 Labor Day Holiday. The safety program started out as a county and later district project for the Missoula American Legion Post. However, the idea was so good that it was soon adopted as a statewide program. The Montana Highway Commission (now the D.O.T.) approved the program in January 1953 with the blessing of the then 13th governor of Montana, J. Hugo Aronson (the galloping Swede). E.A. "Gene" King from Livingston was the Department Commander at the time. Louis Babb was the Assistant Adjutant for the Department of Montana during this time and was instrumental in getting it started. He appeared before the Montana Highway Commission and convinced them to adopt the White Cross Safety Program. With this authorization, most of the 132 Montana American Legion Posts participated in the program. Floyd Earheart, the man who conceived the program, served s the state White Cross Chairman for the first several years.
However, this safety program was not acknowledged in writing until a Letter of Instruction was signed by the then Director of MDOT, David A. Galt on November 5, 2001. In January 2007 the then Director of MDOT, Jim Lynch, was instrumental in getting the American Legion Highway Fatality Marker Program included on the 2007-2008 Official Montana Higway Map. This provided the American Legion with a lot of visibility and publicity. In November 2007, Mr. Lynch approved the construction and installation of 5' by 13' highway signs on all 25 highway entrances to Montana. These huge blue and white signs state that the White Marker Program is "maintained" by the American Legion of Montana. It was also in 2007 that the name of the program was changed from the White Cross to the Fatality Marker Program.
Highway Fatality Marker Instructions For Posts
GUIDE TO STANDARDIZED MARKER HARDWARE
(Changes or points of emphasis in specifications are in BOLD print)
Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) has a written policy for designing roadsides that incorporates wide clear zones, and breakaway sign and support structures in new construction and reconstruction. Montana Department of the American Legion operates the Fatality Marker Program under these established policies.
Readers are cautioned that roadside safety policy, criteria, and technology is a rapidly changing field of study. Changes in the roadside safety field are on-going and subject to change. This article reflects several on-going changes to be followed.
The white markers, together with the upright supporting post, are to be furnished by the local American Legion Posts and installed by them. American Legion Posts may make the markers themselves. There should be no decorating or writing of any kind on the markers. It is recommended any decorations attached to the highway fatality markers be removed during regular maintenance.
A small American Legion emblem, small label, etching or “dog tag” may be placed on the back of the marker to let people know who erected it. It shall be the duty of the Legion Post most closely situated to the scene of the crash to furnish the marker and see that it is properly placed, and maintained as long as it is in that Post's area of responsibility.
1. They should be made of 1/8 or 3/16-inch-thick band steel or aluminum
2. The recommended width of the metal is four inches (4").
3. The crossbar should be twelve inches (12") across and the upright portion of the marker should be sixteen inches (16”) inches. If less than 4" wide metal is used the dimensions of the marker may be reduced accordingly to a minimum of 9" x 12".
4. The markers should be seam welded to prevent rusting but may be riveted or bolted together.
5. Front and back of markers are to be painted with bright white exterior metal paint. They shall NOT be constructed of or painted with reflective material.
1. Supporting upright post shall be steel “U” delineator post rated at 1.12 ppf (minimum) to 2.0 ppf (maximum), six foot in length.
2. Supporting post should be pounded into the ground a minimum of 18". NOTE: Be very aware of unground utilities – look for underground pipe or cable markers in all directions. Montana one-call (800-424-5555) should be contacted a week before installation to confirm absence of utility conflicts.
3. Top of supporting post and markers should not exceed 54” above the ground. NOTE: MDT recommends using 6' posts as it will provide a uniform mounting height of 54” and a uniform depth of 18".
4. Supporting posts mounted in concrete require a breakaway joint.
5. Supporting posts are to be painted bright red with exterior metal paint. They shall NOT be constructed of or painted with reflective material.
1. Fatality Markers shall be placed in the right-of-way in the direction of travel prior to accident (i.e. westbound travel = westbound right-of-way, northbound travel = northbound right-of-way)
2. Fatality Markers shall be placed perpendicular (not parallel) to the highway. (Note position of Marker attached to “U” shaped post.)
3. Fatality Markers shall not present a vertical or horizontal obstacle for pedestrians along bike or pedestrian pathways.
4. Fatality Markers shall be outside of CLEAR ZONE
a. State & local highways (6’ behind a guardrail or 30’ from edge of roadway)
b. Four lane roadways (6’ behind a guardrail or 50’ from edge of roadway)
c. OR Outside edge of “MOW” areas (whichever is greater)
5. Only one support post per fatality location is allowed. In the event of multiple fatalities at same accident scene, multiple markers may be used on a single post
6. DO NOT install markers in median and DO NOT attach marker to guard rail support.
7. Fatality Markers currently in place are "Grandfathered" and do not need to be removed or corrected to conform to these standards.
1. Fatality Markers placed on the highways of Montana are to be maintained annually by the respective Legion Posts. This can be as simple as replacing a supporting post / marker that has been refurbished. This work should be done in the Spring, prior to Memorial Day.
2. Signs will be removed under three circumstances:
a. If a family requests the removal of a sign, it will be expeditiously removed
b. If a sign is no longer in satisfactory condition due to wear and/or appearance
c. When a section of highway is reconstructed to new standards, all markers that involve the old roadway shall be taken down regardless of condition.
3. Removed markers will not be replaced unless requested by a family member.
4. When Fatality Markers are required to be removed and reset for any reason, the Legion Post responsible is to re-erect the marker at the appropriate location with breakaway, lateral clearances and mounting heights as required by this document.
5. Legion workers on or near the roadway shall wear high-visibility safety clothing.
New or Re-Construction:
1. In the event a section of highway is undergoing design changes, all fatality markers should be removed by the local Legion Post and not be replaced.
2. If the highway is only being re-surfaced or having the shoulders improved, all markers should be replaced using these updated requirements upon completion of the re-construction.
3. Installing guardrails, installation of underground cables, or moving the tree line back may require the fatality markers to be removed and be replaced.
IDEAS THAT WORK
These ideas are not intended to be all inclusive. If you have additional ideas or suggestions to aid the Fatality Marker Program, please don’t keep them to yourself. Share them.
1) New breakaway/yielding and crashproof post specifications allow for markers to be easily disassemble and a new supporting post or marker put in place, avoiding total replacement of post and/or welding. Markers can be attached to the support post after it is in the ground. See MDT detailed drawing 619-14 for square tubular signpost breakaway devices.
2) We have been successful in contacting highway construction companies and having them donate “used” delineator posts which cannot be reused on other road projects. We also contacted a local highway sign company and they donated the pre-painted aluminum materials for the Markers. They receive a tax credit for their donation.
3) Some local machine shops or Industrial Arts classes will donate either the material or workmanship to construct the marker.
4) A cooperative agreement with a local government agency to purchase required posts at a discount. To avoid a conflict of interest, local Legion Post must pay for posts.
5) If you must purchase material, pre-drilled, breakaway/crashproof U-shaped steel posts are available at most hardware stores. They may also be available in other ranch or fencing establishments near you. If the post and marker is pre-drilled, the marker can be attached to the post after it is in the ground.
6) If using older support/markers, keep a number in reserve. Refurbish them during the winter months. During annual maintenance, it may be quicker to replace a damaged support/marker with a new/refurbished marker built to standards. Reduces field maintenance.
FREQUENT QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:
How Soon Must Our Post Be In Compliance With New Standards?
Fatality Markers currently in place are "Grandfathered" and do not need to be removed or corrected to conform to these standards. New Fatality Markers, and those removed for any reason, must conform to the new standards effective July 16, 2019.
Are Fatality Markers Memorials?
No! American Legion Fatality Markers mark the scene of a fatal accident and serve as part of a Highway Safety Program. They are placed to serve as a reminder to drive carefully and alert drivers to potential hazard areas.
Can They Be Decorated By Family?
Most Legion members realize a family has lost a mother, father, brother, sister or close relative and are sensitive to the trauma surrounding death and the need to grieve. Decorating a newly installed marker may be reasonable but the use of any type of decoration obstructing the marker is strongly discouraged, as this reduces visibility and defeats the purpose of this highway safety program. American Legion Fatality Markers are routinely maintained, and decorations are removed. If redecorated, the marker may be removed.
Can Fatality Markers Be Placed Along The Interstate?
Yes, you can put American Legion Fatality Marker up on the Interstate in Montana. (SEE: CLEAR ZONE)
Does The County Or State Of Montana Provide These Markers?
NO TAX MONEY IS USED IN FABRICATION, ERECTION, OR MAINTENANCE OF THESE MARKERS. They are purchased by local posts through fundraisers and donations, and placed and maintained by members of the American Legion to remind motorists that driving can be dangerous; people need to be aware of their surroundings; and drive cautiously, maintaining safe speeds. When entering Montana, the Montana Department of Transportation has put up blue signs stating that the white markers represent highway fatalities; maintained by the American Legion of Montana.
What If We Have Lost A Loved One and There Is No Fatality Marker?
When a highway has been reconstructed and corrects what might have been a problem, markers are removed permanently. However, if a safety marker has been removed or misplaced, please contact your nearest American Legion Post. If the local Post does not participate in the program, they will attempt to contact the nearest Post that does participate or the Department Fatality Marker Coordinator.