Funeral Procession Etiquette & Laws

"Funeral Procession" is the name of a famous folk art painting by Ellis Wilson. It depicts a line of mourners dressed in black and white, walking uphill to bury a loved one. It was completed in 1950, but the tradition of the funeral procession dates back to ancient times. Throughout history, people have come together to remember and mourn their loved ones at funeral services. Even though families have different faiths and customs, one tradition common across many cultures is the funeral procession.

In this article you will learn:

What is a funeral procession?

The funeral procession allows friends and family to accompany their loved one to the loved one's final resting place or crematory. An act of solidarity for mourners and a way to honor the deceased, a funeral procession is usually a line of vehicles that travels from a loved one's memorial service at a funeral home or place of worship to a cemetery or crematory.

At the front of the procession: the lead car, usually driven by a funeral director. Clergy may also ride in the lead car. Behind the lead car: usually a hearse, though a flower car may be second in line in very elaborate processions, followed by the hearse. Thereafter, immediate family and pallbearers ride in limousines or their personal vehicles. Other family and friends follow them in their personal vehicles.

A variety of vehicles are available as lead cars, and the lead car and/or hearse may fly flags to signify the front of the procession or they may have placquards in the windows. Sometimes a funeral procession has a police escort to assist the procession in getting from one place to another as a group. If the procession is very large, takes place in a dense urban area or is for a prominent community member, it may be especially helpful to have multiple police escorts to help control traffic.

A funeral procession may occur on foot when a funeral or memorial service takes place adjacent to or near the loved one's final resting place or the crematory. In this case, family and friends walk behind a hearse, or the loved one's casket is carried by the pallbearers to the burial site. And lest you think the funeral procession is always a somber affair, in some parts of the country—New Orleans, in particular—the funeral procession can be a lively event. Often hundreds of people join in a procession as it makes its way through neighborhood streets, walking a friend, neighbor or stranger to the cemetery, accompanied by laughter, dancing and a jazz band.


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Funeral procession etiquette

Whether you're part of a funeral procession or you're driving and encounter one, there are a few rules of etiquette. In the former situation, the rules may be required by traffic laws. They can help you honor and respect the tradition of the funeral procession.

If you're part of a funeral procession:

  • Turn on your flashers to alert other drivers you are a vehicle in the procession.
  • Form a line and stay close to the car in front of you. This helps ensure the procession remains together and is not interrupted by other drivers on the road. Do not leave your place in the procession unless there is an emergency.
  • Drive slowly. It is common for funeral processions to drive at or below the posted speed limit.
  • Pay attention, stay alert and do not use your phone while driving.

If you encounter a funeral procession on the road:

  • In many states, local traffic ordinances give a funeral procession the right-of-way and other motorists are expected to yield. Unless doing so will impede traffic around you, yield to the vehicles in a funeral procession, even if you have a green light. It's just a nice thing to do.
  • Don't join or cut off a funeral procession. This could result in a dangerous domino effect of traffic accidents within the procession.
  • Don't honk your horn at a funeral procession.
  • If a funeral procession is on the highway, don't pass on the right unless the procession is in the far left lane.
  • Once the last car passes, you may continue your drive. If you're at a red light, wait until it turns green before proceeding.

Funeral procession laws

Many states don’t have funeral procession laws. In states that do, the laws vary. The biggest area of concern and confusion with regard to a funeral procession is intersections.

Some local traffic ordinances allow funeral processions to proceed through an intersection or traffic signal—even a red light or stop sign—except to yield to emergency vehicles or police. You should never assume that's the case, however.

In almost every U.S. state, the lead car must obey traffic signals at intersections, thus stopping at a red light or stop sign.

If you're unsure of the laws in your area, ask your funeral director for guidance, search online for your state's laws, observe how others around you are driving either in the procession or when they encounter it and always proceed with caution.


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