Most of us have either witnessed or been part of a funeral procession. The images are somber and moving, alerting the entire community that one of their own has died. Growing up in small-town Iowa, I remember more than a few occasions when my parents pulled over our car to wait for what seemed to be an endless stream of cars driving by in slow-motion, headlights beaming, flags proudly waving. Once the final car passed, we’d proceed.
Now, when I encounter a funeral procession, I follow the same ritual that I learned from my parents. But was I (or were they) following the proper etiquette and guidelines? Whether you’re part of a funeral procession or encounter one while driving, understanding and following the etiquette will ensure that you show respect for those who are laying their loved one to rest.
What is the purpose of a funeral procession?
Whether the funeral procession takes place in a small town, a large metropolitan area or is a televised tribute for a world-famous figure, the funeral procession is often intended to activate and unify community support.
Sometimes, a funeral procession is necessary when the memorial service and burial site are held in two different locations. This creates a need for an organized procession allowing all those who are honoring the death of a family member or friend to travel safely from one location to the next. This is especially important for out-of-town attendees who may not know how to locate their loved one’s final resting place.
Are there funeral procession laws?
There are no national laws for funeral processions. Rules vary by state. For example, in some states, cars that are in a funeral procession may run a red light if the lead car has already passed through an intersection. And, while it’s kind and respectful to pull over for a funeral procession, in many states, it’s also legally required. Drivers can actually be ticketed by police officers if they do not yield the right-of-way to funeral processions.
It’s a good idea to be aware of the laws governing funeral processions in your city and state. There are different customs for different religions and cultures as well, so if you aren't sure about what to do, your local funeral home is the perfect resource. In the meantime, here are some general guidelines to follow whether you are part of a funeral procession or encounter one while driving.
What to Do When Participating in a Funeral Procession.
If you are participating in a funeral procession, keep these general guidelines in mind:
- Arrive at the funeral service early. A funeral home staff member will provide instructions on where to park and answer any questions.
- Find out if it is okay to proceed through red lights or stop signs in order to maintain a safe distance to the car in front of you. Again, some states legally allow this, while others do not.
- Flags are often used as a way to identify which cars are in the procession. If you are given a flag, place it on your car as specified.
- Upon starting the procession, be sure your headlights are on – even if it’s during the day. This helps alert others that you are part of the funeral procession.
- Keep a close, but safe distance from the car in front of you to prevent other cars from attempting to merge into the procession.
What to Do When You Encounter a Funeral Procession.
Again, the legal requirements will vary by geographic area. But following these guidelines will help you act respectfully when you encounter a funeral procession:
- Yield to funeral processions going through intersections, even if you have the right of way.
- When possible, pull over to the side of the road like you would for an ambulance or other emergency vehicle.
- Don’t try to join or cut off cars in the procession.
- Don’t attempt to pass a funeral procession.
- Avoid honking your horn.
Regardless of where you live, you should always show respect for funeral processions. And because rules vary, we recommend that you consult your local funeral service provider for essential information about state and local laws so that you understand how to honor this final rite of passage, signifying the transition between life and death for so many.
What are the funeral procession customs in your area? Share your thoughts in the comments below.