It’s tragic, but not uncommon: funeral processions can be deadly. In North Carolina recently, a toddler was killed as her family stopped for a funeral procession and was rear ended by a truck. In 2012, a study by AAA Mid-Atlantic showed that at least two people were killed and 23 injured in funeral procession-related crashes in the US. Funeral home directors acknowledge that processions are not respected the way they used to be, by drivers who either don’t know or don’t care about laws and customs giving funeral procession the right of way.
When Do Funeral Processions Have The Right of Way?
Laws in each state are different. In Virginia, funeral processions have the right of way only if they are traveling under escort by the police or sheriff. In 2014, a Virginia man was stopped and ticketed – and missed his great-grandmother’s burial – because he ran a red light as part of a funeral procession. But in Maryland, funeral processions have the right of way even through red lights as long as the first car in the procession went through the intersection when the light was green.
Conflicting laws and guidelines lead to confusion that can have tragic consequences. What can you do to be as safe as possible? Here are some suggestions:
- When you are arranging a funeral and burial, ask the funeral home specifically about the procession. Will it be escorted by law enforcement? What guidance will be given to mourners in the procession?
- When you are part of a procession, use common sense. Do not blindly follow the person in front of you. Know the law for the state you are in and whether you legally have the right of way through red lights and stop signs. But don’t assume the other guy knows it, too! Watch out for other drivers who are inattentive or ignorant of the law, and avoid an accident.
- When you encounter a funeral procession, be respectful and do not attempt to cut in line. Mourners may assume they have the right of way even if they do not have a police escort. Again, anything you can do to avoid an accident is worth it.
- Share this information with your family and friends to raise the level of awareness about something we rarely think about or discuss – the potential danger of funeral processions. Don’t wait until you or someone you love is in mourning, because everyone will be less likely to focus then.
Here’s the thing – funeral processions might FEEL SAFE. You have a placard for your windshield. You are in a convoy and you have your headlights on and your hazard lights flashing. Maybe the funeral home representative is even directing you into the flow of traffic. But with conflicting state laws and customs that are no longer routinely respected, it is better to be aware and safe than sorry.