Funeral processions - we all have seen the long line of cars with their headlights on at one point in our life, or maybe we’ve been part of the motorcade ourselves. Whatever the case is, there are certain guidelines one should abide by, both when being part of one and when encountering one. There is no need to stress; they are simple to follow and recall, hopefully allowing some peace of mind. Armed with these gentle reminders you’ll be ready the next time you encounter one.
The Basics - What is a funeral procession? Typically, following a funeral or memorial service, there will be a burial. If the cemetery is not on the grounds of where the service took place, and one needs to travel by car, they will traditionally do so in a funeral procession. A ceremony won’t necessarily always include a procession to the gravesite, but the majority do.
What do you do if you come upon a funeral procession while in your car? The answer is simple - just pull over and wait for the line of cars to drive past you. This is how one shows respect to those who are mourning. Even if they have a red light and you don’t, remain respectful and wait. No matter the town, the city, or the state, when you see a funeral procession - pull over.
You do NOT want to:
- Honk your horn
- Cut into the procession, or try to get in front of the lead car - you could set off a series of accidents
- Try to pass the motorcade on the other side of the road
What happens if you see a funeral procession, while not in a car - such as walking, biking, etc.? Again, it comes back to good old-fashioned respect. Stop moving, remove your hat if wearing one, and wait for the procession to pass.
Are there laws regarding this? Laws vary from state to state, but in Massachusetts the law is pretty clear - the motorcade legally has the right of the way, and is able to bypass intersections and red lights in order to stay in a line, with a lead procession car guiding the way.
I’m part of a procession, what should I do? As far as etiquette is concerned, it also applies to participants. For those who find themselves a member of a funeral cavalcade, there are some important things to keep in mind to ensure you show respect and cooperate appropriately.
- Arrive early. You’ll want to know the details and instructions for your drive to the cemetery. Also, if you are a family member, you want to make sure you come early enough to ensure your spot in the front.
- Turn on your headlights and hazards. This is one of the ways to identify your vehicle as part of the processional. We ask all cars in the procession to turn on their headlights and hazard lights.
- Car signs. We offer two options for funeral procession signs for cars. One hangs from the rearview mirror of a car. The other one is a magnetic funeral sign to use if your car is magnetic.
- Drive respectfully. You want to make sure you follow the lead car, stay in line and keep your speed down.
- Know the route. Check in with the funeral director or spokesperson for the family ahead of time to ask for the route. Either have it on printed directions or plug it in on your GPS. This way, you’ll ensure you can catch back up with the cars if you happen to get separated.
What order are the vehicles in? Remember, funeral procession etiquette not only dictates decorum for those encountering one, but also those who are a part of one. And with etiquette, order matters. There is almost always a lead vehicle the others in the line follow. Usually this automobile at the front of the line is a car from the funeral home, or it can be a police car or motorcycle escort. Right behind this car is the hearse, which will be carrying the casket on the way to its final resting place. Behind the hearse, immediate family will be found, followed by other family, and then finally, everyone else in attendance of the funeral.
Keep in mind, the funeral procession isn’t meant to be tricky. If you follow these steps, whether you come across a motorcade or are a part of one; you will be fine. It all boils down to respect. Respect for those who deserve a dignified sendoff and for their family.