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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Funeral processions have right-of-way

Friday, November 22, 2002

Giving the right-of-way to a funeral procession is the law. But too often, respect for this law is disregarded.

"People have to make a conscious decision to pull out in front of or around the flashing lights of a funeral coach. They tend to take what they perceive as acceptable risks, increasing the chance for accidents. Some people can't take just 20 seconds out of their life to yield to a funeral procession," said Rob Moore, funeral director.

Unfortunately, he had a car in one of his recent funeral processions involved in an accident at the intersection of S.R. 59 and Jackson Street. He doesn't know whether it was the result of motorists not paying attention or a simple matter of disrespect.

"We can't fix the fact that some people just don't pay attention. But we can address the people who've not shown common courtesy and violated the law," Moore said.

The law is written to protect people and their property and gives all vehicles in the funeral procession the right-of-way. It is a Class C infraction to violate the funeral procession law and in Clay County carries a fine of $86.

Liability insurance is tremendous for funeral directors and most have umbrella coverage that would hopefully cover anything that might happen. But ultimately, the funeral director is responsible.

Safety is the funeral director's main concern while moving as an integral unit from the funeral home to the place of burial. Most funeral processions have a lead car with red or blue flashing lights in front of the casket coach. Often times, an employee will go out in the road with a stop sign to allow cars to safely exit from the funeral home.

"We honk and stick our hand out the window. We do anything we can to get people's attention. Besides placing a purple funeral flag on the cars in the procession, we also put a card on the driver's steering wheel reminding the driver to turn on car lights and to keep up the pace. We do that so other drivers don't see an open space and consider it an opportunity to cut in between the cars," Susie French, funeral director, said.

In larger cities, police will escort the procession. Whenever they have an extremely large procession, French said, Brazil City Police are good about coming to help get the procession through the especially congested traffic areas.

Bob Miller, a funeral director in Clay County for 42 years, said the only vehicles not required to pull over for a funeral procession are police, fire and ambulance emergency vehicles.

"I once got stopped by a school bus. I didn't realize that I was supposed to, but the bus driver signaled me to stop. I later called the school corporation transportation director, who in turn called Indiana State Police. He reported back to me that I was required to stop for the school bus. But he said the driver, out of respect, could have made the kids on the bus wait and allowed the funeral procession to proceed," Miller said.

Some people going in the opposite direction, even though not required by law to stop, will pull over. He said it is very encouraging to witness this sign of respect.

The word funeral comes from the ancient word "funeralis", meaning a torchlight parade. Family and close friends would carry the deceased body out of the city at night with torchlights to light the way. To this day, even though it serves no practical purpose, casket coaches have little electric lanterns on the side to carry over the tradition.

Approximately 300 deaths per year occur in Clay County with only about 200 of those deaths having funeral processions. Chances of getting stopped for less than one minute during a funeral procession are less than once a day.

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