Personal Injury Lawyer
Funeral processions carry the body or cremated remains of a deceased person to their place of burial, while allowing family and friends a final opportunity to honor and share in the paying of their respects. The remains of the dead have been transported by processions for thousands of years. During Egypt’s dynastic period, priests organized the funeral cortège by placing the mummy on a slab to be pulled by a team of oxen. These rituals were attended by family members, servants and professional mourners who were compensated for attracting the attention of the Gods charged with bringing the departed into the afterworld.
Recently, a family member asked if it was legal to pass a slow-moving funeral procession on a multi-lane highway. He enjoys driving and is generally a careful driver, obeying speed limits and extending courtesies to those with whom he shares the road. But from the standpoint of a car accident attorney, I was not surprised at the vague and incorrect responses from those privy to the conversation as they worked through the most logical of answers. As I listened to the varied opinions on the topic, it became apparent that unless you have recently read the driver’s manual published by the Department or Bureau of Motor Vehicles, you’ve probably forgotten your state’s text book guidelines about yielding to funeral processions. There are no clear-cut answers to the question above as every state has their own laws relating to funeral processions. While passing a funeral cortège may be allowed with restrictions in some states, it is clearly not legal in others.
Although the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does not keep statistics on vehicle crashes and fatalities involving funeral processions, other organizations do; the AAA Motor Club and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund have found that injuries and fatalities often involve the police officers assigned to detail funeral motorcades. Your local car accident attorney can also attest to the many accidents that occur during funeral processions.
For nearly eighty years, police departments nationwide have offered the services of their motorcycle officers to local funeral homes and their attendees. But after an alarming number of fatalities involving police motorcades, the nationwide trend has been to put an end to police escorts. Between 2001 and 2010, 80 officers died in funerary-related motorcycle accidents. The following year, three police officers and two motorcycle funeral escorts were killed while on funeral procession detail. Also, in a single event, one officer was killed and two seriously injured while working traffic control at the memorial of a fellow-officer. The loss of so many public servants have called into question the human toll and financial costs of elaborate funeral processions when public safety personnel die on the job.
In addition to the injuries suffered by motorcade officers, family members and attendees are also at risk. In 2012, it was reported by AAA that 2 people were killed and 23 were injured in funeral procession accidents nationwide. And in March of 2018, two separate accidents occurred during a single funeral procession in Indiana.
Less than a generation ago, most vehicles slowed to a crawl or pulled off the side of the road as a funeral procession approached. But as a sign of the times, respect for our traditions has gone by the wayside. Many drivers are poorly informed about the rules of the road pertaining to funeral processions while others see a slow-moving procession as an annoyance to be aggressively passed up, honked at or given a vulgar demonstration of their displeasure.
Before you volunteer to drive, I would urge you to research and follow your state’s laws governing funeral processions. You may also contact your car accident attorney for advice and a better understanding of the law. Once you understand your local laws, you may find the following information about driving in a funeral procession to be useful:
- The lead escort and final vehicle signal the beginning and end of the procession to other motorists by using flags, headlights and flashing lights.
- All participants will be given a flag and should drive with their headlights on.
- Expect to drive slowly; usually at or under the posted speed limit on city streets and 55 mph on freeways.
- In most states, the lead vehicle (police escort or limousine hearse) must observe traffic signals. But once the line is on the move, those following may be allowed to continue through a red light. While this is true in many states, others do not recognize funeral processions as having the right of way. Check your state’s laws before you drive.
- Do not leave space between vehicles that would enable a driver to cut into the procession. Many accidents occur when an outsider cuts off a processional driver.
- While other drivers in the procession may not know the etiquette, be watchful and always aware of the actions of the vehicles in front of your car or motorcycle.
- Do not leave the procession line unless you have an emergency situation. If you have left the line for some reason, do not attempt to return to the line.
- When you arrive at the final resting place, workers will usher your vehicle to the grave or mortuary and remove your vehicle’s identification flag.
If you have been involved in an accident involving a funeral procession, contact a car accident attorney Indianapolis, IN trusts as soon as possible.
Thank you to our friends and contributors at Ward & Ward Law Firm for their insight into car accidents involving funeral processions.