What is the protocol for letting a funeral procession pass? I never know what to do; some cars stop and some don’t. Does a procession have the right of way at an intersection? – Eve in Markham, Ont.
It used to be that everyone on the road would stop or pull over and allow a funeral procession (also known as a cortege) to pass in a continuous line.
In some areas of the United States, motorists in a funeral procession have the right of way, but in Canada, for the most part, the rules of the road prevail.
“There are different situations in different provinces, but the overall rule is you really don’t get special privileges,” says Suzanne Scott, executive director of the Funeral Service Association of Canada. “There are situations where there will be police involved that will help a procession stay together, but generally on the roads in Canada for funerals you have to follow all the same rules.
“So, if you’re in a procession and you come upon a red light, you must stop, just like always. In fact, there have been cases where cars have gone through red lights and there’s been a red light camera and they will get a ticket. You may even see a policeman sitting there just to make sure everybody is safe and sound and gets to where they need to go, but it doesn’t mean you get to ignore the rules of the road,” says Scott.
For state funerals or the repatriation of veterans, the traffic flow may be regulated by police, but generally a funeral procession is driver-beware.
“It used to be that funeral processions would get police escorts; we’re not doing that with the OPP any more,” says Constable Linda Wolf with the Ontario Provincial Police. “Sometimes they’ll hire a private security company with the flashing purple lights that are sometimes seen on funeral escort vehicles. But they don’t have the authority to go through a red light.
“What it comes down to is that the motoring public should give a little respect and courtesy to a passing funeral, but beyond that they’re not obligated to pull over or to stop if they have the green light,” says Wolf.
As you’ve noticed, a procession can cause confusion on the road, especially at an intersection. “The best bet and the safest suggestion for all would be to follow the traffic signal as you would at any other time. If you don’t, it gets into a situation where one person will stop, but if it’s a two-lane highway or roadway, someone else may not stop and it could become a serious situation,” says Wolf.
Funeral directors often hand out maps or give directions, and advise those travelling to the cemetery to turn on their four-way flashers or hazard lights. Vehicles at the front are typically marked with flags or flashing purple lights. Many funeral directors also advise mourners that they should meet at the cemetery, rather than attempt to travel in procession.
“I would hope that etiquette would still be that you pull over and try and let them go by together. I know I do, and I see lots of people who do, but that’s not always the case. You can’t expect it any more unfortunately, especially in urban settings,” says Scott.
When safe to do so, it’s courteous and respectful to allow mourners to proceed uninterrupted, just remember: the rules of the road still apply.
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