Drivers lack funeral procession etiquette

March 23, 2014
A funeral procession moves along Pike Street at Racetrack Road in Chartiers Township following services at Our Lady of Miraculous Medal Church in Meadow Lands. - Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

The funeral procession of a loved one to the final resting place should be a sign of respect for the departed. But too often local funeral directors are finding that drivers who are apparently in a hurry are lacking in etiquette.

“People today just aren’t as pleasant,” said Jack Kirk, who owns a livery service in Pittsburgh’s West End that provides hearses and limousines to funeral homes in Southwestern Pennsylvania. “They break into line or don’t want to give processions leeway going through intersections.”

State police Sgt. Christopher Hugar said the state vehicle code outlines the funeral procession itself, but not so much the rules governing drivers sharing the road with it, although protocol is that drivers should yield to a funeral procession.

“The vehicles (in the procession) can proceed through a red signal or stop sign if the lead vehicle has started through the intersection while it was green,” Hugar said. “Vehicles in the procession also must have headlights and emergency flashers turned on and display a flag or something to designate it as part of a funeral procession.”

Funeral directors or their employees are also permitted to stop traffic as the procession pulls onto the street from the funeral home, Hugar added.

Michael Neal, owner and supervisor of William G. Neal Funeral Homes Ltd. in Washington, said keeping funeral processions intact and free of drivers cutting through it can be a challenge.

“I tell the drivers in the procession to stay as close together as safely possible,” Neal said. “I also tell the people in the procession which cemetery we are going to after some were cut off on their way and never made it to the cemetery. I’ve even thought about putting a car at the back of the procession if it is long.”

“Some people just won’t wait for the procession,” he added. “And some drivers are just distracted, on their cellphones.”

Kirk said he recently had a procession travel from his funeral home on Pittsburgh’s South Side to the Cemetery of the Alleghenies in Cecil Township.

“We were on Interstate 79 near Carnegie and people were cutting through the procession to get off the highway instead of slowing down for the procession,” Kirk said. “And these weren’t teenagers doing it.”

Neal said that funeral processions are a thing of the past in many major cities.

“It is just not possible to do them,” Neal said. “After the service, the participants are told to meet at the cemetery at a certain time.”

Tim Marodi, director of Thompson-Marodi Funeral in Bentleyville, has also seen drivers who disrespect the funeral procession.

“They want to cut in or otherwise interfere,” Marodi said. “It happens occasionally. I don’t know if it’s people not knowing what to do or just not caring.”

Marodi said a few years ago, he was leading a procession on Route 88 near Coyle Curtain Road in Fallowfield Township. He blocked the intersection to allow the procession to pass when another driver went around his vehicle, apparently oblivious.

Tim Warco, director-supervisor of Warco-Falvo Funeral Home in Washington, recalled several years ago that his limousine was nearly struck broadside by a driver not wanting to yield to the procession turning into Queen of Heaven Cemetery on Route 19 in Peters Township.

Kirk recalled that about 20 years ago, some of his vehicles in a procession from a funeral home on West Liberty Avenue in the Beechview section of Pittsburgh.

“The hearse and limousine were pulling onto West Liberty when another driver just kept on coming,” Kirk said. “The other driver ended up hitting the back of the hearse. We had to take it to a nearby Cadillac dealership so we could get the casket out. It really makes you wonder about people.”

Canonsburg police Chief R.T. Bell said that years ago, police were often asked to assist funeral directors by providing an escort for processions.

“But we don’t get those calls too much any more unless it is for a large funeral,” he said.

“This is the last sign of respect for a human being,” Marodi said. “It is appalling to me to think that some people think it is acceptable to do this.”

Kathie O. Warco has covered the police beat and transportation for the Observer-Reporter for more than 25 years. She graduated from Duquesne University with a degree in journalism.

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