Dr. Traffic

When it comes to funeral processions, there are traditions – and laws

In North Carolina, vehicles in a funeral procession should have headlights and flashing hazard signals on. They should stay to the right side of the road and follow the vehicle ahead as closely as is reasonable and prudent.
In North Carolina, vehicles in a funeral procession should have headlights and flashing hazard signals on. They should stay to the right side of the road and follow the vehicle ahead as closely as is reasonable and prudent.

Most of us would rather not think about funerals. But funerals are a part of life, and funeral processions are part of life on the road.

When a procession passes, many drivers want to show respect for those who are traveling to a chapel or burial site. As a courtesy, onlookers may stop their vehicles to let the mourners pass and avoid breaking their line. In busy urban areas, those courtesies sometimes are less apparent, according to Leon Escude of Charlotte.

“When I was growing up in the dark ages, out of respect you pulled over for a funeral procession,” he wrote in an email. “However, nowadays, some people stop, some creep, and others (probably on the phone) just ignore the procession and speed on.”

The state made the tradition of showing respect the law at least as early as 1999, although there are still allowances for those who choose to keep driving.

The N.C. Department of Transportation devotes a nice chunk of real estate to this subject in the “N.C. Driver’s Handbook.” There are rules for those who are driving in a procession and for everyone else who is on the same road at the same time.

Here is a quick review:

▪ The driver of the lead vehicle in a procession must comply with all traffic signals. When the lead vehicle has crossed the intersection in accordance with the traffic signal, or when directed to do so by a law enforcement officer or funeral director, or when being led by a law enforcement vehicle, all vehicles in the procession may cross the intersection without stopping, the driver’s handbook states. Drivers in the procession should take care to avoid pedestrians and other vehicles.

▪ All vehicles in the procession should have headlights and flashing hazard signals on. They should stay to the right side of the road and follow the vehicle ahead as closely as is reasonable and prudent.

▪ A driver traveling in the opposite direction of a funeral procession may yield to those vehicles by reducing speed or by moving off the road and stopping, allowing other vehicles moving opposite the procession to pass. (Yes, other drivers are allowed to keep moving when you might think it’s more appropriate to stop, according to the handbook.)

▪ A driver traveling in the same direction as a funeral procession shall not pass or attempt to pass unless driving on a highway that has two or more lanes of traffic moving in that same direction.

▪ Avoid driving between vehicles in a funeral procession, even if you’re suddenly facing a green light. Wait for the procession to pass, unless you have a green light and see an opportunity to cross the intersection without breaking up or interrupting the procession.

So the law lets the driver decide, in some instances, whether to go with tradition or move with traffic. But a quick decision that weighs things like safety and compassion is not always so easy.

Karen Sullivan: kmsulliv@charlotteobserver.com, @Sullivan_kms

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