Is courtesy toward funeral processions a thing of the past?

Is courtesy toward funeral processions a thing of the past?

CHAMPAIGN — The casket is in the hearse. The mourners are lined up in their cars. Let the defensive driving begin.

Funeral processions, once treated with courtesy by other drivers, are being routinely subjected to another kind of driver these days — one who's either too preoccupied or too impatient to stop, according to funeral directors.

"Traditions have changed so much," said Drew Edwards, general manager of Sunset Funeral Homes. "When I started 24 years ago, everybody pulled over for a funeral."

In the eight months since the Rev. Courtney Caruthers moved from San Antonio, Texas, to his new church here, he's seen drivers cut into and pass funeral processions rather than pause and allow them to go by.

The senior minister at Urbana's Dublin Street Church of Christ, Caruthers said there were two near-accidents involving cars in one recent funeral procession making its way across the community.

"There's a lackadaisical attitude toward it, especially when there's no police around," he said.

Illinois law says drivers in funeral processions should have their headlights and hazard lights on, and drivers encountering a funeral procession must give them the right of way.

Other drivers aren't permitted to move in between cars in a procession unless they've been directed to do that by a traffic enforcement officer. Nor can drivers pass any vehicles in a funeral procession, unless a passing lane has been specifically provided, according to the Illinois Rules of the Road.

Caruthers said he has safety concerns, and he questioned why police aren't helping with funeral processions.

But in Champaign-Urbana, police assistance is generally available only for large processions.

"When requested, the police department does provide traffic control assistance at street intersections for large processionals or for special circumstances," said Champaign police spokeswoman LaEisha Meaderds. "However, we don't typically provide police service for funerals."

In Urbana, police also aren't involved for most routine funerals, said Deputy Chief Bryant Seraphin.

"For large events, deaths of a community member that will affect a lot of people, in those instances we will coordinate with the church, the funeral home and try to provide traffic control to keep the procession together," he said.


'We're all in such a hurry'

What Caruthers has observed with funeral processions isn't that unusual these days, local funeral directors said.

"People are quite impatient and like to cut in front," said Dawn Maggio, a funeral director at Morgan Memorial Home of Savoy. "I don't know if they're not paying attention, or they don't understand that we have the right of way."

In Edwards' experience, a funeral is one of the biggest events of a family's life.

"It's sad that people cannot take a few minutes out of their day to show their respect to the deceased and their family," he said.

Stacey Wagner, of Mittendorf-Calvert Funeral Home in Champaign, said about every funeral procession her home has includes a car getting hit or nearly hit.

"We're all in such a hurry," she said. "I feel there's this lack of respect that there once was for a deceased person."

For her, this follows along with changing values that younger people are being taught about funerals.

That includes skipping a trip to the cemetery for some.

With the growing preference for cremation, Wagner said, some people prefer to hang on to the ashes and scatter them later.

"Or they may not come back and pick (the cremated remains of) mom up," Wagner said. "They may put mom in a closet and pass her down for generations."

Even the time-honored Memorial Day trip to the cemetery to visit graves of loved ones has fallen off, she said.

"Every year, we see fewer people coming," Wagner said.

How people treat funeral processions does vary by community, funeral directors said.

They tend to encounter more courteous responses from drivers in smaller surrounding communities than they do in Champaign-Urbana.

"In small towns, you tend to see more people pull over," said Matt Schable, a co-owner of Renner-Wikoff Chapel and Crematory in Urbana. "I grew up in Atwood, and that's just what you did. I think respect for the dead and people who are grieving was ingrained in us more."


'Let's show them some respect'

Funeral directors would like drivers to know that the law requires the driver of a lead car in a funeral procession to observe all traffic signs and signals. However, once the lead car proceeds through the intersection, the rest of the procession can follow along behind without stopping.

They'd also like drivers to be more alert to the flashing purple or amber lights funeral vehicles use and the flags placed on vehicles in the procession.

"The key for us is we try to be seen," Schable said. "We have to drive defensively sometimes. Unfortunately, there have been some situations where there have been some near-accidents."

In a perfect world, he said, it would be nice to get police escorts for every funeral.

"But we understand that is not possible. Police have other jobs to do as well. They can't be at our beck and call," Schable said.

The way Edwards sees it, unless people are rushing to a hospital, there's no reason they can't stop for a funeral procession.

Try and consider how you'd like other drivers to treat this funeral procession if it were for your mom, Wagner urged.

"And it's that person's last ride," she said. "Let's show them some respect."

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wayward wrote on September 10, 2017 at 9:09 am

A flashing light on the lead vehicle is a good idea, and purple might be more noticeable than a yellow light (which are used for other purposes and often don't require other vehicles to yield). Honestly, I wonder if a funeral procession might simply be easier to see in small towns. In Champaign, Urbana, and Savoy, a long line of cars might be more common because there's more traffic.

rsp wrote on September 10, 2017 at 10:09 am

No, peope have tried to cut in behind the hearse like it's a game. When my brother passed the bikers spread out across the road so everyone had to pull over. They were a little irritated at the lack of respect shown to one of their brothers. Nobody cut in that line!

Some days during rush hour I've seen long lines of traffic stop from two directions as a long line of cars come up a side street from a funeral. Usually they will wait for the stragglers if they aren't too far back. It's heartwarming.

wayward wrote on September 10, 2017 at 4:09 pm

Yeah, it's hard to do much about the jerks. But I did wonder if better visual cues like a flashing purple light might help with well-meaning but oblivious people.

Ellen wrote on September 10, 2017 at 12:09 pm

It all comes down to respect, and there is no respect anywhere today. It is obvious in the shootings and robberies that are taking place. In the heinous acts men perpetrate on women and women on their own children. Human life means nothing. 

My mother passed at home and when the hearse came for her I remember my brother standing at the end of the driveway until the hearse was out of sight. How difficult is it take time from your day to allow a person's final ride to be honored.  If nothing else, think of the person as someone you love and how you would want the same courtesy afforded to them. 


IllinoisAlum wrote on September 11, 2017 at 10:09 am

With respect, it gets pretty tiresome to see comments like yours, suggesting that 'there is no respect today' or implying that crime and violence today are somehow worse than in the past. It's exactly the opposite, and you are ignoring objective facts. People have always capable of being terrible. Our society is the safest it has ever been. Violent crime has consistently declined and continues to decline. Implying that crimes against women and children is more of an issue now then when you were younger is laughable. Women's rights are the best they have ever been. Domestic violence is less of an issue than it has ever been (although any violence is too much violence). Domestic violence was almost glorifyied earlier in the 20th century. If you think things are worse now then when you were young, you're looking through rose-tinted glasses.

How difficult is it to take time from your day to honor someone's 'final ride'? Usually not very and most do. But how difficult is it for you to comprehend that it's not respectful to expect strangers to accomodate your personal bereavement. I try to stop and let funeral processions go by. But they aren't always reasonably conducted. And some of us can't afford to be late to jobs with strict employers. Some of us are trying to get home to our pregnant spouses, or pick up our kids from school on time, or get to our doctor . I do my best to show my respect for those around me. But the irony is that you're one of the folks who complains about the 'entitled' millenial generation while ignoring your own feelings of entitlement in expecting everyone else in society to halt their lives for you. Unless someone is being deliberately disrespectful and speeding through the middle of your procession or honking at you or cutting you off, grow up and move on with things. It shouldn't affect your focus on celebrating the life of a loved one.


Ellen wrote on September 11, 2017 at 5:09 pm

Thank you IllinoisAlum you have all but proven my point.  You are incapable of even respecting my opinion as "my opinion" without picking it apart piece by piece with your own thoughts and ideals.  I have avoided the comment section in most things I read because of people just like you. You refuse to allow anyone to have an opinion different from your own without attempting to make them look foolish or misguided.  I have been blessed. I have dealt with NO funeral processions, so your comment about me expecting people to "accomodate my bereavement" have fallen on deaf ears. My respect is for ALL life, human and otherwise. I don't insist people yield to funeral processions, I just know that it was instilled in me when I was young to be RESPECTFUL. This is my chosen way of doing so. I also, hold doors for people, use please and thank you and yes, I even help the elderly across the street. It's just who I AM and I don't need anyone's permission. I answer to two people, ME and GOD, and WE got this.  Be happy and have a wonderful day.  

IllinoisAlum wrote on September 12, 2017 at 12:09 pm

You're right, and I apologize for being short and rude. When I said 'you' (e.g. accomodating your bereavement) I was referring to people generally, not specifically you. I was referring to those who have seemed to take offense at others just trying to go about their day and implying that those people don't have a sense of respect or morals and are 'foolish and misguided' just because their actions around a funeral procession don't align with what some people feel entitled to. I shouldn't have focussed my frustrations on you and your comment has helped remind me to be careful when commenting over the internet.

Part of the reason why I was short with you was because I interpreted your comment as showing that you are incapable of respecting other opinions/actions. Your reference to a lack of respect in this day and age is just the repetition of a common claim by older generations today. It's essentially saying that 'my generation is better than yours' and that younger people are inferior and have no morals, which is inherently disrespectful. Hence why I pointed out that objective facts disprove the implication that things are somehow worse now than in the past. Every category of human rights has advanced, a symbol of our society's progress in treating all with respect. But you've made it clear that you had good intentions so I thank you.

I'm not sure why you bring god into this. I'm glad to hear all those things that you do, but again, your emphasis on describing your own morals and sense of respect implies that others don't have such morals. But again, I don't think that's your intention. Of course I agree that everyone should strive to be respectful.



Khristine wrote on September 10, 2017 at 1:09 pm
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When I lived in Texas I would marvel at the respect shown to a funeral prosession. Even on a highway cars pulled over to the side of the road, the men got out of their vehicle and held their hat. Not just one or two cars, every car. When my mother-in-law passed in April and her prosession swept from Morgan Funeral Home to St. Matthews Church she received no such respect from passers by. It was quite sad. She was 87 and deserved everyones respect. 

CharacterCounts wrote on September 10, 2017 at 10:09 pm

Drivers in Mattoon do pull over for funeral processions.  The last half dozen funeral processions I have been in, my wife and I comment about how respectful the oncoming drivers are.  The Mattoon Police Department does provide escorts if time permits.  The police escort certainly helps.  It seems Champaign and Urbana police departments should rethink their policies of not providing funeral escorts.  

In Memphis, private companies are contracted by the funeral homes to do funeral escorts.  They use motorcycles year round.  The motorcycles are involved in many accidents due to motorists not paying attention.

Better lighting on the funeral home lead car would certainly help in my opinion.  They could certainly try adding additional traffic attention lights.  A regular light bar on top, flashing/alternating headlights.  A louder sounding horn would also be helpful with the lead vehicle to get the attention of vehicles in the intersection.

787 wrote on September 11, 2017 at 4:09 pm

There's another side to this story. 

On an afternoon a few months back, I was travelling south on US 45 through Savoy, when I met the end of a long line of motorcycles, in the right hand lane.  By long, it was around a half mile in length.  There was nothing at the end of the line to distinguish anything.   Other drivers didn't know what to do.  Odd timing for a Poker Run, but it was the middle of summer.

I took the left lane and slowly started around them.  At the head of the line of motorcycles, which could not be seen from a half mile back, was a hearse.  I felt badly, but it was too late.  No little Funeral flags, no flashing lights, no police, nothing to signify that it was a funeral procession from the back of the line.

The hearse identified the funeral home as Renner Wikoff.  I sent them an email message asking them WHY they didn't have at least have a car at the end of the line, with funeral flags and a flashing yellow light as a courtesy to other drivers, especially since it was all motorcycles and there were so many of them?  They have cars in their fleet for this purpose.  But doing so would have required additional effort from Renner Wikoff, and an additional employee.  So, apparently someone decided to skip it.

I received a fairly hostile email in return from someone who identified herself as a funeral director there. She tried to explain that it wasn't a funeral procession (even though it sure looked like one to me), and that if anyone was at fault, it was me.  It was her view that they had done nothing wrong in their (poor) planning of this procession.  She then tried to lay a guilt trip on me by accusing me of failing to show proper respect in the situation, complete with a link to the obituary of the deceased.  But remember that I had been told that it wasn't a procession.  

When she wanted to deflect blame from herself and her employer, it wasn't a procession.  When she wanted to lay a guilt trip on me, about what had happened, then it was a procession.   There's nothing like wanting it both ways.

So, it isn't always the driver's fault.   The staff at Funeral Homes occasionally don't properly think things through.

rsp wrote on September 13, 2017 at 2:09 pm

A second car would have been an additional expense, and they may not have brought it up to the family. In my own family we have "planned" the last car, so it's someone familiar with the route, visible, has a flag, etc.

IllinoisAlum wrote on September 11, 2017 at 10:09 am


sotherefore wrote on September 11, 2017 at 1:09 pm

Give funeral homes the ability to change the traffic lights for both a lead and end car!  (De-prioritize with respect to emergency vehicles) Or have cops on major intersections.  Otherwise, I won't follow procession for safety reasons.  Just give me directions to the cemetery.  People see a green light and go and as the cars in the middle aren't badged other drivers don't understand and just see a lot of traffic.  I was in a procession in Chicago someone was hit following the procession through an intersection after the light had turned.

sotherefore wrote on September 11, 2017 at 1:09 pm

Give funeral homes the ability to change the traffic lights for both a lead and end car!  (De-prioritize with respect to emergency vehicles) Or have cops on major intersections.  Otherwise, I won't follow procession for safety reasons.  Just give me directions to the cemetery.  People see a green light and go and as the cars in the middle aren't badged other drivers don't understand and just see a lot of traffic.  I was in a procession in Chicago someone was hit following the procession through an intersection after the light had turned.

True Story wrote on September 13, 2017 at 10:09 am

I've seen one funeral procession in town (Champaign) in the last ten years. It was on Staley heading north. I was heading south so the lead car passed me and I knew what was going on. It was the only vehicle with flags. I then observed the light turn red and cars continue through it. I witnessed 2 cars (heading east, west) approach the light and I was sure there was going to be an accident. Because of the tracks the cars weren't following each other closely and to people that had just approached from other directions it looked like a car running a red light. It was dangerous and not smart. The funerals I've attended I've observed everyone give respect as we passed, but also every car in line had flags and we did not run lights (only stop signs).

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on September 13, 2017 at 1:09 pm
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The Death Industry will remain profitable even if we forgo this dangerous and archaic ritual. It predates not just maps and GPS, but cars.

How many statements from funeral directors, all telling about accidents and near accidents, must we read before concluding it's a bad idea?

LocalResident wrote on September 13, 2017 at 9:09 pm

My experience is similar to others.  I encounter a procession maybe once every few years.  The last one I saw was winding through downtown Champaign where there are peculiar traffic patterns, lights every block, and fairly heavy traffic.  People will respect a procession if it's clearly marked and behaving well, which is not the case in the few times I've encountered them in recent years.

The article says cars should have their headlights and flashers on.  Most vehicles have daytime running lights, so headlights don't distinguish anything anymore. 

There is very little to distinguish a funeral procession from a car running a light, especially if the funeral vehicle at the front never passes you.  If you encounter a procession at a cross street where you have a green light, you can't even see hazard lights and just see a few cars inexplicably running stale red lights.  I also see very few cars with flags.  Having a flag attached to virtually every car at the top of the door and visible above the roofline would help a lot. 

The processions also tend to spread out.  Instead of a solid stream of cars moving through an intersection, you have regular traffic obeying regular traffic laws and then an occasional car mixed in that does what it wants and expects everyone else to yield. 

The law doesn't even give emergency vehicles that level of deference.  They make themselves clearly visible by flashing lights and sirens, regular traffic yields, and they still are obligated to slow down and check an intersection when they cross against the traffic signal.

As it is with funeral processions I've seen, you have cars with little or no visible identification blasting through intersections where cross traffic has every reason to think they have the right-of-way.