Funeral Matters / Motorists should show respect for processions
On March 24, 2010, the U.S. House passed a resolution naming April the National Distracted Driving Awareness month. This decision was based on the growing trend of not only cell phone usage while driving, but the practice of texting while driving.
There are dangers in driving in a funeral procession, and doing so has become increasingly treacherous since the cell-phone boom.
A funeral procession used to merit a certain amount of community respect. Led by a police car, a hearse solemnly making its way through town roads exuded dignity. This was, and still is, the rite of passage in the final chapter of life.
Rarely do I lead a funeral procession when I don't spot a driver talking on a cell phone or someone fiddling with the keyboard on their phone in what I assume is "text messaging mode." They often look up in shock when the police escort is desperately trying to waive them to the side to get out of the way of the cortege. I strongly believe in the "Hang Up and Drive!" movement, especially considering there are funeral processions on the road with grieving people behind the wheel, simply trying to take their loved ones to their final place of rest.
Has the world we live in become so fast-paced and impersonal that we have shelved our basic respect for others and minimized the value of life itself? Or perhaps the violence on the news, on television shows and video games has jaded death to the point that we treat it with nothing more than flagrant disregard. Are our lives so busy that we cannot pause for just a few moments to show respect for a life that was lived?
Conducting a procession through town has become a more challenging event for those responsible for its passage -- the funeral directors and the police. Processions have become the scorn of many impatient motorists, as they disrupt their ability to get from one place to another in anything short of record time.
My experiences have included hand gestures, horns honking, pounding of the steering wheel and the burning of rubber as someone tries to outrun the line of cars. Not only are these examples disgusting from an ethical standpoint but flat out dangerous for everyone on the road.
As a funeral director, I see every day the importance of the funeral ceremony and its valuable rite of passage. So why don't these ceremonies elicit more respect in our community? Perhaps we are so out of touch with the feelings of others that we could not care less. We must be reminded that the casket in the hearse bears someone's mother or father, grandparent or, sadly, someone's child? We should keep in mind as well that the hearse is often being followed by grief-stricken drivers who are numb and perhaps not thinking clearly. We need to give these people a safe space to say good-bye to their loved one. Also, many people attending the funeral are from out of town and do not know their way in an unfamiliar community, so back off and let them pass.
When driving in a funeral procession, be sure to follow the funeral director's instructions. Funeral homes should ensure a proper police escort has been scheduled. In the past, not all processions needed an escort, but we are at the point where it is becoming a requirement no matter how few cars or how short a distance will be traveled, simply due to the actions of others on the road and the funeral home's responsibility to keep everyone safe while driving.
Every car in a funeral home should be marked with a bright "Funeral" sticker. Each car should have headlights and emergency flashers on. Also, try to stay as close as safety permits to the car in front of you. This helps prevent gaps in the line and makes it more difficult for aggressive drivers to cut in.
Most of all, be alert and conscious of traffic. Please don't be in the mindset that, since you are in a procession, you can flip on your autopilot and glide along. It is important to note that emergency vehicles do have the right of way over a funeral procession, so follow the lead of the escort if emergency vehicles must pass.
Next time you see a funeral procession, take a moment to consider the life it represents. Think also about the pain of those traveling in that procession and reflect on how precious life truly is. Consider how you would feel if the hearse was carrying your beloved parent or spouse. It only takes a few moments of your time to slow down and let the procession pass.
Even a fairly long procession typically takes less than one minute to go by. I am sure we would all hope that when our loved ones die, people will take just one minute of their being to respect a life lived.