Funeral processions are a standard part of many funerals, and many of us have likely been part of one or have witnessed one. Nonetheless, some may not be aware of the rules and expectations involved in them. Therefore, we have compiled an etiquette guide for those participating in and witnessing a funeral procession.
What is a funeral procession?
A funeral procession is usually a motorcade of cars - or in some cases, mourners on foot - that escort a hearse containing human remains to a final resting place after funeral services (e.g., visitation) have ended. It usually starts at a funeral event, such as a funeral home or church, and ends at the crematorium or cemetery.
Funeral processions have been conducted for hundreds of years. In the tradition's origins, family members typically carry the deceased to their final resting place. Other loved ones would follow along by foot. However, this has shifted mainly to vehicle processions in the present. Most modern processions consist of a lead car or hearse carrying the deceased's body, with loved ones following behind in their vehicles.
The main purpose of a funeral procession is to provide one last way to honour and pay tribute to the deceased. However, it also offers an opportunity for community support as onlookers are also encouraged to pay their respects as the procession line passes.
Driving in a funeral procession
If you participate in a funeral procession, one of the first etiquette rules is to show up at the starting location on time. It is recommended that you arrive up 45 minutes before the funeral procession. This allows for funeral attendants to prepare the lineup.
The procession lineup will usually begin with a lead car or a hearse, followed by a limousine or personal vehicles driving the immediate family. The lead car is often black with flags to denote the beginning of the procession. The remaining family and friends will follow next, usually in the order they arrive.
Once you arrive at the starting location, attendants will show you where to park, and they will mark your car with a sign or a flag to show that you will be part of the procession. The flag is usually placed on the driver's side of the vehicle. It is likely that attendees will also be advised to have their four-way flashers or hazard lights during the procession. The flags and the lights help alert other drivers that you are part of the procession.
The procession will begin once the funeral service is done. At that point, pallbearers will typically transport the casket into the hearse, and attendees should immediately go to their cars and be prepared to follow the procession line.
What to do in a funeral procession
When in the procession line, here are some things to keep in mind:
- You will be driving slowly. Typically, those in a procession line will usually drive 10 to 20 km/h (5 to 10 mph) below the speed limit.
- Stay close to the car in front of you, to the best of your ability. Drivers should not allow enough room for other vehicles to cut into the procession line.
- To the best of your ability, follow the procession the entire time. The cars in the procession line will be following each other closely, so if you veer off from the intended path, you will also be affecting the entire procession.
- Follow local laws when driving. In some areas, funeral processions are given the right of way and are not required to obey specific traffic rules if it is safe to do so. That is the driving protocol in Alberta and Saskatchewan, for example. However, in provinces like Ontario, this is not the case.
- The final car in the procession must have markers to indicate the procession has passed, and regular traffic can resume. The final car will often be appointed by the funeral home. However, if you are designated as the final car, it is vital to ensure you have your four-way lights on and the funeral markers are visible for other traffic.
Once you have arrived at the cemetery or crematorium, you will continue to follow the procession, or an attendant will guide you to where you need to go (e.g., gravesite or parking lot). Once the cars are parked, flags and markers will be removed from the vehicles.
Witnessing a funeral procession
When you encounter a funeral procession, one of the most important things is to be respectful and courteous to the grieving families. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Yield when possible. Although it is essential to obey the rules of the road, if you can give the procession the right of way, it is best to do so. For example, if the procession is halfway through the intersection when the light turns red, it is best to let them pass before you continue driving.
- Do not cut into the procession line. Doing this can significantly disrupt the flow of the procession line and may cause some cars to stray away from the group or become lost on the way to the final resting place. In some areas, it may even be considered an offense to drive like that.
- Do not honk your horn or rev your engine. It is disruptive and disrespectful to the grieving family and friends.
- Pullover when possible. Although this is often not required, pulling over and allowing it to pass ensures you are not disrupting the procession line. It is also a way to show respect and reverence towards the deceased.
- Look for the final vehicle before resuming normal driving behaviour. It will usually have additional flags and will have its four-way flashers on.
- Be respectful and patient. The death of a loved one is difficult, so showing a little compassion during the procession is appreciated.
Questions about a funeral procession or other funeral protocols?
Ask our team at Eirene about funeral protocol and etiquette. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to access our phone info. You can also make cremation or aquamation arrangements with our company.
More Funeral Etiquette Information
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