After the recent injury of a motorist who collided with a vehicle in a funeral procession, police say it is important for the public to be aware that state law gives organized funeral processions the right of way.
Missouri Revised Statutes Chapter 194, Death/Disposition of Dead Bodies, regulates right of way, what is a funeral procession, following distance, penalties and other issues relevant to funeral processions. Authorities use this law in enforcing traffic during funeral processions to keep pedestrians and motorists safe.
Sedalia Police Sgt. Kelley Castro elaborated on some of the aspects of laws regarding funeral processions and who has the right of way. In defining right-of-way, the law states that vehicles and pedestrians must yield to any vehicle in a funeral procession. One of the most common accidents, and the subject of much confusion, is stoplights. Under Missouri law, motorists must stop for the procession, even if the light is green for the motorist.
“When they (the procession) enter that intersection, and it was green when the funeral procession entered it, then other traffic must stop and wait for the procession to clear through. Once they have cleared, and everyone can tell, then they (motorists) must monitor the lights right after that,” Casto said.
The law states a funeral must have a lead vehicle, which can be a hearse or coach, equipped with proper lights that are amber or purple in color or alternating flashing headlights. A legitimate funeral procession must have two or more vehicles, transporting the remains of a deceased person from a funeral establishment to a place of service or the deceased’s final resting place.
Still, another subject of confusion is being able to tell what the last car in the procession is as traffic often becomes spread out over a distance. To address this, state law requires that a motorist participating in a procession must use his or her flashing four-way hazard lights. Vehicles in the procession are also required to follow the lead as closely as is safely possible.
“I understand a lot of funeral homes are putting this in their programs to let people know,” Casto said. “If you are going to be part of a procession, one of the things the statute talks about is that everybody in the procession has their four-way flashers going. A lot of people think it’s just headlights, but it is the four-way flashers, so that everyone can see they are part of the procession.”
Another common cause of accidents is drivers attempting to pass a funeral procession, also illegal under state law. It is also illegal to pass through a procession or join one in an attempt to secure the right of way.
“You can’t pass a funeral procession or any vehicle in that procession. We get on four-lane highways — you have a procession going and the procession is in one lane and cars get into the other lane and start to pass the funeral, but you can’t do that. You can’t pass a funeral procession at all,” Casto said.
Drivers in a funeral procession are granted the right of way in most cases, however, the law states they must use a high degree of care toward other drivers and pedestrians on the roadway.
“What we are saying there is — if you saw somebody who was not going to stop for the funeral procession, you have an obligation to try and avoid that accident,” Casto said. “Somebody may say ‘this is the end’ and start to pull out, but it is a requirement that everybody exercise due care when proceeding with the funeral procession.”
Often during funeral processions, motorists pull to the shoulder with headlights on and let the bereaved pass. There is no law requiring this, but it is often done as a display of respect.
“That’s not a law, but it’s something out of respect most drivers will do,” Casto said.