The funeral procession: a storied tradition based on respect — for some, at least.
When it comes to the funeral procession in modern America, it seems respect for the dead has slipped. It’s especially true in the bigger cities with high-volume traffic.
Funeral Procession Origins
Let’s take a step back and understand the meaning behind a funeral procession. The funeral procession is an ancient tradition, with the earliest evidence dating back to ancient Egypt. The mummified body was followed to the tomb by family, priests, and mourners. The Greeks and Romans had their own versions, and the concept has come a long way. With the advent of cars, the modern funeral procession was born.
The funeral procession is about respect. It’s the final road traveled for the deceased. Cars used to stop and pull over to allow the mourners to make their way to the cemetery — in some parts of the country the tradition still exists, but overall it’s increasingly less common.
In an article published by the Washington Post, Funeral Director P.A. Wilson explained how the tradition is fading.
“People do not give respect to the funeral as they did years back,” Wilson said. “Everybody’s busier, and there are more cars. But people should still be showing respect.”
Funeral processions have even become dangerous in high-traffic areas. The Post article explains how a AAA report found that in 2012, two people were killed and 23 injured in funeral processions. Just try googling funeral procession accidents and you’ll be surprised.
One of the biggest problems with funeral processions in America is that the laws and traditions vary by state. Five states allow the right of way without following any traffic signal, while 15 states allow only properly identified funeral cars to disregard red lights, but that’s only if the lead car passed when the light was green.
“Properly identified” also means a different thing in different states too (source: Connecticut General Assembly Report). This makes it very confusing, especially as families often travel to different states for funerals. This article explains how the southern tradition of pulling over as a sign of respect doesn’t line up with the actual laws of North Carolina.
What do you think? Do the families in your community still give the respect a funeral procession deserves? Or has the tradition faded?
Here is a great resource to pass along to families explaining the variation by state.
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