Faith and Values: What is the proper etiquette?

Faith and Values: What is the proper etiquette?

Funeral Etiquette is something most people will have to learn at some point in their lives. When our aunt was buried in Indiana, we had a procession from the funeral home to the cemetery which was about 5 miles away. Being from the “big city” I was amazed when all the other cars pulled over to the side of the road and many got out and stood to watch with reverence while we passed by. It was a lovely gesture of respect for our aunt’s life and our family’s grief. If only I would ever see this in the Washington, DC area where I live.

This article By PAM ADAMS of the Journal Star was Posted Jul 04, 2009 @ 01:00 AM

PEORIA (Illinois) —

Funeral processions. Bumper to bumper, we’ve taken part in the ritual. We’ve also waited what seems like hours for car after car to pass. But many of us aren’t sure of the rules of the road, and who has the right away.

As a funeral home director, Matt Salmon has been in the lead car of many a funeral home procession.

“It’s funny,” he says. “In West Peoria, other cars always pull over for us, in Kickapoo, they always pull over. For some reason, they always pull over in smaller towns. In bigger towns …”

He recalls one incident, in particular.

“I was in the lead car, the hearse was right behind me. This driver kept trying to get in between us, I bet this went on for a mile,” Salmon says. “He finally gets in between the hearse and the lead car and turns into McDonald’s.”

The late Monsignor Robert Livingston, whom Salmon calls an icon, was in the lead car also.

“That’s the only time I ever a saw a monsignor lose it,” he says. “Obviously, I remember it because it was unbelievable. Thankfully, it’s not that common.”

But, increasingly, particularly in larger cities, funeral directors share similar unbelievable tales from along the funeral procession route.

Don Clary, of Clary Funeral Consultants, says he’s fielded two different complaint calls this year from drivers upset because two different funeral processions delayed their trips. “I’ve even had people flip me off.”

Inconsiderate drivers contributed to at least one Massachusetts funeral home’s decision to stop doing processions if the group is large or has to travel long distances. To offset traffic problems, some funeral homes in Chicago and St. Louis have begun paying off-duty police officers as traffic escorts, according to Chris Wooldridge, a southern Illinois funeral director who is incoming president of Illinois Funeral Directors Association.

Earlier this year, an elderly woman was killed when the car she was riding crashed into a truck driven by a man in a funeral procession in the Chicago suburbs.

The problem, funeral directors say, is a combination of distracted drivers and drivers who don’t know or, in some cases, don’t care about the rules of funeral procession etiquette.

“When people get upset about funeral processions,” Clary says, “I just think they have to think about what they would want if it was their loved ones’ funeral.”

Illinois law requires the lead vehicle in a procession to obey all stop signs and traffic signals. However, once the lead vehicle goes

through an intersection the rest of the caravan has the right of way. Vehicles in the procession must have headlights on.

Though some cities automatically provide police escorts for every funeral, that’s not the case in Peoria.

“We can request help for very large funerals,” says Eric Ham of Wilton Mortuary, “but we don’t expect it.”

Mortuaries use lead vehicles, often a mini-van, with amber or purple lights on top to alert drivers to processionals. Funeral directors also say they do their best to make sure all vehicles in a procession have funeral flags, headlights on and stay close to the vehicle ahead of them.

“That’s key,” Ham says. “If they leave big spaces, someone’s going to jump in and out.”

Sometimes, drivers in a funeral procession will stop for a traffic light or stop sign and they’re not supposed to, he adds. “That also causes problems from our end.”

But inattentive drivers are a major factor in what seems like a rise in processional incivility.

“People aren’t paying attention as we go through busy intersections,” Salmon says. “You can tell. They’re texting, talking on the phone and they don’t notice, no matter how loud you honk.”

Automotive technologies also share part of the blame for problems with processions. Newer cars come with automatic headlights that stay on all the time, which can add to confusion during funeral processions. State senators are considering a new law that would give funeral directors the right to direct traffic, but also require vehicles in processions to turn on hazard lights as well as headlights to distinguish them from vehicles with automatic headlights.

It’s just not the inattentive and/or inconsiderate drivers or automatic headlights, according to Woolridge. In large cities, it can be the surveillance cameras designed to catch drivers running red lights.

Woolridge says Cook County funeral directors tell him of instances where everyone in a procession received a traffic ticket for running a red light.

“We’ve got to educate local governments about funeral procession etiquette, too,” he says. “If you’re a relative of the deceased and you get a ticket a few days after the burial, that’s a slap in the face.”

Pam Adams can be reached at 686-3245 or