After reading the headline 1 Killed in Funeral Procession Crash, I wondered how many funeral directors are still gladly leading funeral processions and what it will take for us to encourage our clients to eschew this time-honored (and, nowadays, dangerous) practice.

In my days as a funeral home administrator, I seldom led funeral processions, since I was often charged with cleaning up after a funeral had left the chapel.  But before I headed back inside to scrub green oasis stains from beige carpeting, I usually had the harrowing task of stopping three lanes of 55-mpg+ traffic for the procession.

The cussing, honking and rude gestures got so bad that I finally printed this Florida statute on a piece of poster board:

316.1974  Funeral procession right-of-way and liability.  3(a):  Regardless of any traffic control device or right-of-way provisions prescribed by state or local ordinance, pedestrians and operators of all vehicles, except as stated in paragraph (c), shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle which is part of a funeral procession being led by a funeral escort vehicle or a funeral lead vehicle.

Holding up the sign for oncoming traffic at least gave them something to read as they waited.  Still, there were numerous times that I was either verbally accosted or narrowly missed by a vehicle that didn’t care about the law.  One driver, a visitor from Georgia, actually hit my arm with his black BMW X3 as he drove around me and skirted the procession.

Other times I’d get the procession safely on the road, only to get a phone call from someone complaining that they had to wait in traffic for our procession.  One man complained that he had the right-of-way (a green light) and we should have told our procession members to stop at red lights.  Even after I read him the law and told him that our procession, in fact, had the right of way, he tried to complain that we shouldn’t do processions because he, and others like him, didn’t know the law.

We could argue that ignorance is no excuse, but truth is, ignorance gets people hurt.  On better days, ignorance only ends up in a fender bender or hurt feelings.  On the worst days, a little ignorance can end in death, like the news story I cited earlier.

What responsibility do we, as funeral professionals, have to the people in our care during a procession?  Lawyers can tell me all day long that any injury or death that occurs in a procession is not the liability of the funeral professional, but I wonder how I’d feel if someone died in one I was leading.  Would I find comfort in the law?  Would the negative effects of such bad publicity be mitigated because the law says I’m not responsible?

If I were still running a funeral home, I think I’d counsel families against processions.  I’d encourage use of printed directions.  Maybe we’d station staff cars at landmarks along the way, with a note on the map:  “If you get lost, meet up with a funeral home staffmember at the following locations.” 

What would you do?