To Pull Over…or Not to Pull Over???
The art of the funeral procession
by Rebecca Tjaarda
You are out driving on the road and you see the flashing lights of a motorcycle officer coming towards you at full speed. Pretty soon you see a funeral coach and you think “What do I do?” “Do I pull over?” “Do I keep going?” Perhaps you’ve been to a funeral service where motorcycle escorts were there to take the attendees to the cemetery and you have felt unsure about what to do. “Are there any rules to follow?” “Is there anything I need to know about how to drive in the procession?” These are all very common questions. As a funeral director and the one behind the wheel of the funeral coach, I am going to shed some light on what to do when you are faced with a funeral procession.
Why a procession?
Funeral processions are designed to get all of the attendees of a funeral service from the place of the service to the interment location. They keep everyone together in one line, ensuring that everyone leaves at the same time, stays together, and arrives at the cemetery at the same time without anyone getting lost or left behind. The motorcycle escorts stop traffic and hold lights and stop signs so that everyone can stay together. They are particularly helpful in cases where there is some distance between the funeral location and the cemetery or when there are several people attending the services who are from out of town and are unfamiliar with the area or in situations where there is a tight time frame between the services and the interment.
You may be surprised to know that motorcycle officers are not actually law enforcement officers, they are private citizens hired and contracted through companies used for funeral service. Much like ambulances are private companies contracted to respond to emergencies. Like ambulances, we as drivers, must comply with the commands of the motorcycle officers. Safety is the motorcycle officers number one priority; safety for those in the procession, safety for the citizens on the street and safety of their fellow motorcycle officers.
How to drive in a procession
If you will be driving in a procession, there are some basic rules you will need to follow to help you and procession move safely to the destination:
- First, get a placard from one of the motorcycle officers to hang from your review mirror
- Turn on your headlights and emergency flashers
- Maintain a safe but close distance to the car in front of you
- NEVER let any car pass in front of your car through the procession at ANYTIME!
- Always allow the immediate family to be closest to the funeral car
- Obey all instructions from the motorcycle escorts and funeral home staff
If you will be driving your vehicle in a procession the first thing you need to do is see one of the motorcycle escorts for a placard to hang from your review mirror. This is very important, as it is your “ticket” to drive the procession. Any vehicle not displaying this window sticker will be removed from the procession. It is the motorcycle officer’s way of knowing who belongs in the procession and who does not. The placard also lets the motorcycle officers keep track of the number of cars in the procession.
Next, turn on your headlights and emergency flashers. This lets the traffic on the road know that you are part of the funeral procession. Once the procession begins, make sure to maintain a safe but close distance to the car in front of you. The procession will be moving relatively slowly with very few stops so you should not have any trouble following along. Be sure to obey all commands from the motorcycle officer’s and the funeral home personnel, we are here to keep you safe and make sure that everyone arrives to the destination without delay.
The most important thing for you to remember…NEVER EVER let any car pass in front of you or through the procession at ANYTIME! The motorcycle officers are constantly passing up and down the length of the procession, at an average rate of double the speed of the procession. Allowing a car to pass through the procession can result in a serious accident between the car and the officer. Over my 20 year career I have seen these accidents occur a few times and it is a very traumatizing event for the officers, the public, and everyone involved in the procession.
What to do if you encounter a funeral procession
As a general rule of thumb, if you encounter a funeral procession during the course of your day the most important thing to remember is to yield to the procession. If your car is in the direct path of the procession, pull over and allow the procession to pass. If you are not in the direct path of the procession, then proceed with caution and continue on your way. Should you see the police escorts come into an intersection where you are stopped, follow the commands of the motorcycle officer. They may have you stay stopped where you are or instruct you to move through the intersection and out of the way of the procession.
Never try and cut into or through a funeral procession you are not part of. In a society where we are all in a hurry to get somewhere it can be tempting. You see a break in the cars and think “I can make it.” I cannot stress enough how critically important it is that you stay put until the procession passes. The escorts are constantly passing up and down the length of the procession, often at a high rate of speed and can be hidden by the cars they are passing. Cutting into or through a funeral procession can result in a serious or even fatal accident between you and a motorcycle escort. Be respectful and wait for the procession to pass.
In a society where we are all so busy and always have somewhere to go, it’s important to remember why there is a funeral procession in the first place. Somebody died. The death of a loved one is something we will all face at some point in our life. While specific customs and traditions may differ across cultures and religions, funeral ceremonies give the bereaved a special time and place to say goodbye. So the next time you see a funeral procession pass, yield, and take a moment to pay respect to the family laying their loved one to rest.