On June 16, 2014, a Virginia man was pulled over by the police for running a red light while driving in a funeral procession. As a result, R.G. Spinner missed his great-grandmother’s burial. The Alexandria police officer pulled behind Spinner with his red and blue emergency lights flashing after witnessing him drive through a red light, along with the rest of the funeral procession. Spinner removed the large yellow funeral procession tag from his rear-view mirror and furiously waved it out his window, hoping the officer would let him proceed. He didn’t.
Confusion and inconsistency abounds regarding when and whether a motorist in a funeral procession can run a red light. There is much more at stake than missing a funeral. As you can imagine, the likelihood of a serious accident involving personal injury or property damage increases exponentially if you have a long string of cars streaming through a red light in heavy traffic. Millions of claims and subrogation dollars hang in the balance. An understanding of how funeral processions affect the legal rights and remedies of motorists and their insurers is clearly a prerequisite to the effective handling and/or subrogation of the thousands of insurance claims that flow from accidents involving funeral processions.
A funeral procession is a convoy of friends, relatives, and family members following the hearse from the funeral home to the burial site. Through the ages it has varied from people walking and carrying the deceased, to the modern entourage of limousines and automobiles. Most states have enacted statutes governing the procedures and traffic laws for a funeral procession as well as the legal requirements for yielding to one. Quite often, all vehicles in the funeral will be marked with a purple funeral flag issued by the funeral home. All drivers will be told to turn their headlights on. The hearse will be the first vehicle in the procession followed by the spouse, children, immediate family members, and friends. In most states the lead vehicle must observe all traffic lights, but when the lead car has proceeded through an intersection, the rest of the procession may proceed without stopping. The procession is often accompanied by law enforcement vehicles to ensure the safety of the procession when running a red light. Cars traveling in the opposite direction of a procession may yield out of respect, if they want, but in most states, they don’t have to yield, slow or stop at all. Clearly, this is a recipe for disaster.
Obviously, identification of a funeral procession is vitally important. This usually requires the lighting of headlights, but can include flags or even flashing lights. Consistency is lacking and if you travel to another state for a relative or friend’s funeral, there is no telling what the law might be. Not only do the laws governing funeral processions vary wildly from state to state, there is also mass confusion regarding the application of such laws within certain states. Nevada specifically allows the lead vehicle to actually go through a red light. Five states (Arizona, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, and North Dakota) grant a funeral procession the right-of-way at any intersection without regard to any traffic control signal. There, the lead driver can make any necessary turns or movements regardless of the color of the light, implying that it can run a red light. Iowa law immunizes vehicles in a funeral procession from violation of traffic laws unless the vehicle is operating recklessly. Six other states statutorily provide for the continuity of funeral processions at intersections but do not specifically provide the procession with the right-of-way. Some states have no laws at all. With the help of research by the Connecticut Office of Legislative Research and Nicole Ways, a Marquette law student, Matthiesen, Wickert & Lehrer, S.C. has compiled a chart with the specific laws of all 50 states. Click HERE to view the chart.
If you should have any questions regarding this article or subrogation in general, please contact Gary Wickert at [email protected].