Legalese — Funeral Processions

I’ve had a number of people asking me what they are supposed to do when they are sharing the road with a funeral procession.  Obviously, you should show respect, but that can vary under different circumstances.  What are you required to do, and what is simply good manners?

Georgia law spells out some rules.  In order to be an official funeral procession (as opposed to just some folks driving from the funeral home to a wake or something like that) there has to be “an array of motor vehicles in which the lead vehicle displays a sign, pennant, flag, or other insignia furnished by a funeral home indicating a funeral procession unless led by a state or local law enforcement vehicle and each vehicle participating in the funeral procession is operating its headlights.”  In simpler language, this is a line of cars headed up by a marked car from the funeral home or a police car or motorcycle, and everyone has their headlights on. 

When the funeral procession gets to an intersection, it has the right of way.  Period.  This is true whether or not there is a stop sign or a red light or whatever.  The only exceptions are if there is an emergency vehicle running lights and sirens or a police officer directing traffic says otherwise.  Of course, just because the funeral procession has the right of way doesn’t mean they should go barrelling through the intersection: that’s dangerous.  Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something.  Make sure it’s safe before you do it. 

If you are not a part of the funeral procession, don’t interrupt it.  Don’t drive through it or around it unless a uniformed police officer tells you that you should.  You also can’t turn on your headlights and join in just to get some traffic advantage.  That’s dirty pool. 

If you are on a two lane road, you should never ever ever pass a funeral procession.  This is for several reasons – 1) It’s not safe; 2) it’s incredibly rude; and 3) it’s a misdemeanor and you can get a ticket with a fine up to $100.  If the road you are on is more than two lanes, you can legally pass the funeral procession, but you may want to consider before you do.  If it is a divided highway, you’re probably good, though you probably ought to slow down.  If it is a smaller road, use your judgment.  I use this rule of thumb: the more likely I am to be able to see the faces of the mourners, the more likely I am to pull over and stop.  Also, the more likely I am to be randomly rear ended by someone who has no idea why I’m stopping, the more likely I am to keep going.  You’ve got to balance courtesy with safety. 

Like almost everything else in the world, use the golden rule as a guide.  If you were a part of the funeral procession, how would you want someone in your position to behave?  This is one of those laws where if you obey the golden rule, you’ll likely be okay with the law.  If this were your funeral, or the funeral of someone you cherished, wouldn’t you want the other drivers on the road to act respectfully?  Slow down.  Show some dignity.  Don’t interrupt, and don’t let your problems (like impatience or lateness) get in the way of basic decency.

Life is short.  Take a minute to appreciate that you’re still alive while you’re being delayed. 

Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice. It is being offered for informational purposes only.

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