If a funeral procession is in the right lane, should you go around in the left lane or should you wait? No disrespect intended, but it was holding up traffic for miles. Of course, we were going to the airport and were late. One of the cars in the procession drove in the middle of the road so no one could get around. – John, Toronto.
It's legal to pass a funeral procession, but do it with a little consideration. Dirty looks, the glare of high beams and the four-letter-words don't exactly help with the grieving process.
"You can pass a funeral," says Ian Law, president and chief instructor with ILR Car Control School. "But do so with respect – not honking and giving them the finger for slowing you down a tad."
A slow funeral procession may cause you grief if you're late for work, but they're slow for a reason, says the Funeral Services Association of Canada (FSAC).
"The procession drives slow out of respect for the deceased but it also allows the community to acknowledge that a death occurs and to pause and pay respect as the procession passes," says John Greene, FSAC President, in an e-mail. "It is recommended that drivers of lead cars travel at least 10 km/h under the speed limit."
Some funeral homes ask family members to just meet at the cemetery. But, traditionally, members of the immediate family drive directly behind the hearse, Greene says.
"Additional vehicles such as a flower car or pallbearer van are then placed between the lead car and funeral coach," he says.
If everyone going to the burial joins the procession, it can get pretty large. It can be tough to tell who's with the funeral.
"In the past, the general rule was for vehicles in the funeral procession to put on their high beams or their headlights on to show that they are in the procession," Greene says. "With the advent of day-time running lights, it is getting more difficult to spot a funeral procession and some funeral homes may loan funeral flags to vehicles so they will be more easily spotted."
Mourners may also turn on four-way flashers or borrow a purple light from the funeral home.
Rules of the road still apply
So, what should you do when you encounter a fuel procession on the road?
Rules vary by province, but, generally, you're supposed to follow the standard rules of the road when you encounter a funeral procession.
"Common sense would dictate that other drivers should respect or be courteous to funeral processions, but there are no laws that speak to it directly," says Sgt. Kerry Schmidt, with the Ontario Provincial Police Highway Safety Division. " And, funeral processions generally don't get special treatment under the law either – unless paid-duty police officers have been hired to escort them and direct traffic, Schmidt says.
"Unless the funeral procession is under the control and direction of police they have to obey the rules of the road," Schmidt says in an e-mail. "No special rights for them."
That means they have to obey stop signs and traffic lights – even if it means breaking up the procession.
"It is a 'courtesy' only that funeral processions are given the right of way – they have no authority to go through red lights or assume they have the right of way," said Ontario's Ministry of Transportation (MTO) in an e-mail statement.
Technically, Schmidt says, an officer could give cars in a funeral procession tickets for impeding traffic.
"That would be officer discretion," Schmidt says. "I don't think they intentionally go slow but, because of the volume, that ends up happening."
Ontario's Highway Traffic Act doesn't address funerals, the MTO says, but the laws in some provinces do. Greene says section 165 of Nova Scotia's Motor Vehicle Act bans driving through or into a funeral procession. The fine for a first offence is $180.
In British Columbia, members of a funeral procession are exempt from a ban on vehicles following each other too closely.
But otherwise, the law says they – and you – should be driving normally.
"Funeral processions should not be impeding the flow of traffic," Law says. "However they tend to do so and it is overlooked as a courtesy to the mourners."
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