Funeral Processions: a quaint idea whose times has passed?

I live in a large-ish suburban town, near three cemetaries and two funeral homes. I frequently have to leap out of the way of funeral processions cruising blindly through traffic lights, and I frequently see unwary motorists skid out of their way. The NJ laws:

No one pays any attention to this. I have never seen a funeral procession with flags or dashboard banners, and you can’t see “lights on” in broad daylight.

Seems to me the funeral procession was a grand, comforting gesture before the advent of traffic lights and the horseless carriage, but it is simply no longer safe or feasible. Why can’t everyone meet at the funeral, then meet at the gravesite? How does forming an unbroken conga line make the experience any more meaningful? Yes, I have attended funerals of loved ones, some with processions and some without, and I can’t say one was any “better” than another. Nowadays they’re just too dangerous (and too difficult to maintain! There’s always a few “alien” cars accidentally getting in there anyway).


One advantage is that it’s easier for people to find the cemetary, especially for folks from out of town. Less chance of people getting lost on the way if they all go in nice tight group that can’t get cut apart by traffic lights.

My city is not a large one, about 130,000, so processions aren’t too much of a problem here.

There was only one time I was caught in traffic by a funeral procession, and that was special circumstances. A local police officer had been killed by a drug dealer during a raid. I was halted at an intersection as his procession made it’s way to the cemetery. I stopped counting at 300 cars, many from out of state law enforcement agencies. Someone told me that as the hearse arrived at the cemetery, there were still cars entering the procession, a distance of about three miles. I was able to back up and make my way by another route, though, so I didn’t mind so much.

So most of the time I don’t mind it, as most processions are not all that long. But in a large crowded city I can see the OP’s point.

I have always viewed automotive funeral processions as a form of arrogance when applied to the general population. It’s a way for the relatives to project their sense of their loved one’s importance - and in some cases, I believe, to focus attention on themselves.

I recently formed a part of a mini-funeral procession after the death of my father, and it made me uncomfortable, though not as uncomfortable as did other parts of the superstition-laden, undertaker money-grubbing American funeral experience (which I protested but being in the minority failed to have an impact). I would apologize to the other drivers except that I doubt anyone really noticed our three-car procession.

So I’m with you on this one, Eve, but stupid customs take a long time to change.

In times past the funeral service was held in the AM or PM daylight hours with procession to place of burial and a short graveside farewell service!

A few years back visitation was in the evening with the funeral service, procession and burial the next day.

Recently the visitation is something like 6 - 8:00 PM followed by the funeral.
Everything is setup at graveside the following day for immediate family and close friends to arrive at the appointed time.
Pallbearers carry the casket to the grave, a short service, and all depart.

Saves time and gas for all involved.

The current laws regarding funeral processions are a statement of our society’s priorities. It’s saying that giving the friends and family of the deceased a chance for reflection and a chance to observe tradition is a high priority, high enough that we’re going to give some drivers a delay to let it happen. As funerals aren’t all that common and the delay is typically short, I have no objection to it.

That said, none of the three funerals I’ve been part of have included a procession. I highly recommend that people design funerals and ceremonies on an individual basis reflecting what the person really wanted, rather than automatically conforming to the norms.

I now officially want a five mile long conga line for my funeral procession. (It’s really the least you can do for the concubines who are going to be immolating themselves on my byre- give them one last hoo-rah.)

A few years ago a police officer was killed in the line of duty in Montgomery, AL and as is usual when such tragedies happen every police station in the tri-state area that could sent employees to pay their last respects, then of course there were the politicians and the family and friends and well-wishers, etc… I don’t deny them their final respects at all, it was truly a tragedy.

However, I had a relative in the hospital who was having emergency surgery and I literally had to wait for almost an hour (no exaggeration) for the procession to pass, and of course you didn’t DARE complain about the funeral of a slain officer before I could get to the hospital. Had an ambulance been there I don’t know how it would have been handled. My father’s funeral procession was also huge and an 18 wheeler who passed by several of the cars in the alternate lane was pulled over by one of the escorting deputies which I thought was a bit unfair. (My own funeral procession will of course occur on a day when roads are closed and my Air Hegemony Officials will have already cleared the 300 mile route and the floats and the Culture Club Tribute band and the cast of 1776 and “Oh, Sampiro! the Laser Musical Extravaganza” will have to have crowd control for their occasional stops to perform.)

I turn on my lights and pull over for the hearse and for a reasonable number of cars behind it, figuring the people who are really grieving should all be passed in a minute and the rest are friends and wellwishers. I think that’s totally reasonable and agree that after the first few cars the rest of the procession (the end delineated by a motorcycle trooper) should be subject to all reasonable rules of traffic.

But don’t they get to reflect at the funeral? And at the graveside? How does an unbroken line of traffic (“Godammit, we have to go through a light! Godammit, somebody just took a left into our procession!”) inspire yet more “reflection?” And it’s not so much a matter of “delaying drivers” as endangering the lives of both unwary drivers and pedestrians.

I can see if it’s the funeral of the chief of police, who was killed by Al Queda three days from retirement while rescuing a kitten from a burning orphanage. But there is a funeral just about three times a week in my neighborhood (again, near three cemeteries and two funeral homes), and surely that can’t be the case in all of them.

I just think it’s a case of, “yeah, that was a nice custom 150 years ago. Shame it’s not feasible anymore. Oh, well.”

If there hadn’t been a procession at my grandfather’s funeral in Pittsburgh, I can’t tell you how lost I would have been. My parents rode in the limo and it was just me and my young cousin (from DC) and we had no idea. Her job was to yell “Don’t stop!” when I saw a red light. We made it, but it was a long, convoluted trip and I would never have found it on my own (especially on an emotional occaision like that).

Clearly you needed GPS - the Grave Pointing System.

Do whirling dervishes have funeral precessions?

Anybody else remembering the procession/hearse arrival scene from I Love You Alice B. Toklas!?

I understand what you mean. I’m not in the pro procession camp but on the other hand I don’t really see them as all that disruptive or dangerous in the big scheme of things. The only one I’ve ever seen in an urban area, Dallas, included officers on motorcycles who made sure traffic flowed smoothly. I can’t say I felt overly burdened or endangered by the procession. Perhaps it should be a requirement that any procession has some means to control traffic?

I see funeral processions occasionally since I’ve moved to rural Arkansas. The first time I saw one my wife asked “Aren’t you going to pull over or turn on your lights?” I answered no and honestly it was the first time I had ever heard of such a custom.


FWIW, the journey behind my grandfather’s hearse, in Ireland, covered about 150 miles. It involved travelling through many small and medium-sized towns, all of which allowed us to pass through unimpeded. No idea if they were required to, but they did. I can’t recall what happened when we encounted red lights. But best of all was halfway, when we stopped for lunch at a pub, and running short of parking spaces put the hearse in a no-parking spot, confident that nobody would dare issue a ticket.

Perhaps all of these issues could be solved by requiring permits for funeral processions. The traffic signals along the route could be changed to make conditions safer, showing red to all on-coming traffic. The procession could only be so-many cars long before there would have to be a break, allowing traffic to flow for a set period of time before the next segment of the procession starts through.

This can be carried too far.

We had a hearse driver get into trouble locally when he decided to stop off at a strip club for a few drinks and someone noticed that his vehicle was, um, occupied. You wouldn’t think the dearly departed would mind the delay, but still…

I never saw the point in funeral processions until the first time I drove in one(my grandfather’s). In an unfamiliar town in New Jersey, in the middle of winter, after having driven straight through from Chicago with basically zero help from my sister, who had suddenly “lost her night vision.” I could barely see over the dashboard, I was so tired, and it was very helpful to just be able to follow the person in front of me to the cemetery.

I wonder if that’ll work for driving in the car-pool lane.

Sorry, but this seems extreme for anything but a really huge funeral. OTOH, it does make sense for examples like the cops’ funerals given by others. Many emergency vehicles can change traffic lights; something like this might be made available with a permit for large funerals. For those concerned about getting lost on the way to the grave site, it makes more sense to ask someone who knows where it is if you can follow them, rather than try to keep everyone together. Also, the headlight thing means nothing anymore. Most new cars have driving lights that stay on all the time. I would think nothing of seeing 20 cars in a row with their lights on during the day. The whole funeral and burial thing is archaic and creepy imho, though, and the funeral procession is possibly the least unpleasant thing about the whole situation.

You know, the weird thing is, when we got to the cemetery there was a fake grave. The real grave was down the hill a bit, but they’d laid out Astroturf and put down that framework thing that lowers the casket and everything… only under my feet I could feel other people’s gravestones under the Astroturf! (It was very cold and very muddy and if we’d gone down to the real grave we might not have made it back up again, but still!)

Anyway, I suppose that would be the difference between true north and magnetic north on my GPS, huh?