Archived Story

Give right-of-way to funeral processions

Published 9:00am Friday, June 10, 2011

Across the Pastor’s Desk

By the Rev. Andrea J. Myers, Grace Lutheran Church

It’s become pretty common to see bumper stickers that say “Watch for Motorcycles” or “Look for Bicycles.” It’s all about sharing the road, and doing it safely. This week I’ve been pondering an idea for a new sticker: “Watch for Funerals!”

Traveling in a funeral procession in a town like Albert Lea can be a real challenge. Getting from the church or funeral home to the cemetery generally requires traveling through downtown intersections, neighborhoods, and busy highways. Even with a police escort to lead the way, getting the entire procession of mourners there safely is a nerve-wracking experience.

Minnesota state law states “When any funeral procession identifies itself by using regular lights on all cars and by keeping all cars in close formation, the driver of every other vehicle, except an emergency vehicle, shall yield the right-of-way.” This allows funeral processions to stay together, and not get separated at intersections or by cross-traffic.

Yielding to funeral processions is an old custom, which can vary across different regions and communities. When I lived in Texas, I saw that people didn’t just yield to the procession; cars in oncoming traffic would pull off the road entirely. In many farming communities, it’s tradition to stop tractors in the field and stand alongside them as mourners pass by. Such customs demonstrate that yielding to a funeral isn’t only an issue of public safety. It’s also a matter of showing respect for others, of fulfilling the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

A friend recently told me about a particularly harrowing ride to the cemetery. He was several cars behind the hearse and the police escort. Like the other drivers, he had his headlights on. As is often the case, they were going a bit slower than the posted speed limit. Suddenly another vehicle sped up alongside the funeral procession. The driver passed one car after another in an effort to get down the road ahead of the group. This other driver even pulled up alongside the hearse before finally heeding the gestures of the officer to back off. Perhaps this driver simply did not recognize the funeral procession. Or maybe the driver did recognize it but didn’t feel any need to slow down or pull over. In either case, their behavior surely did not demonstrate respect for this family or the friends that were accompanying them on a very difficult journey.

So please, watch for funerals! Be alert to the presence of a hearse, or a line of cars with their lights on. When you see them, show neighborly love and respect by yielding. Make sure you don’t merge into the procession or separate them. Pull over wherever it’s safe to do so. Give the gift of your time as a gesture of respect. Perhaps, while you wait, you can even say a prayer for those who are mourning and living through a difficult day.

Then please teach the young drivers in your life to do the same. Talk together about what it was like for you to accompany a loved one on their final journey to the cemetery.

Showing respect for members of our community as they mourn is just one more way to answer Jesus’ calling to “love your neighbor as yourself.”