A funeral procession is a tradition that often takes place after a funeral or memorial service. The body is transported from the funeral home or place of worship to the burial or cremation site with friends and family following behind. In earlier times, the funeral procession would take place on foot, with male family members carrying the casket. Nowadays, the procession tends to take place in vehicles while the casket is carried in a hearse. However, it remains slow and somber in nature and is still an important part of honoring and saying goodbye to a loved one.
How does a funeral procession work?
The funeral procession is usually led by the funeral directors in a black sedan, followed by the hearse carrying the casket. Typically, close family members follow the hearse in limousines. Other friends and family then drive their cars behind to create the rest of the memorial procession.
The funeral directors place flags on the cars to show that they’re part of the procession. These flags usually display the word “funeral” and are placed on the front left-hand side of the car. There might be a flag on every vehicle in the procession, or if there are lots of cars, the funeral directors may place a flag on every other or every third vehicle. Drivers usually have their headlights on to further indicate that they’re part of the procession.
The final car in the procession has two flags to signal to other drivers that the procession has come to an end. They may also have their hazard lights on.
The memorial procession drives slowly from where the funeral took place to the cemetery or crematorium, where members of the procession say a final goodbye as their loved one is laid to rest.
Funeral procession etiquette for members of the procession
If you’re going to be part of a funeral procession, you might be unsure what to expect, especially if you’ve never been in one before. Below we’ve answered some common questions people have about being part of a funeral procession.
When should I arrive?
At the funeral or memorial venue, funeral directors will direct the cars into a row, bumper-to-bumper, to get them ready for the procession to start after the service. You should arrive around 30 minutes before the service to allow time for this to happen. Family members or close friends of the person who’s passed should be closer to the front of the procession. The cars are arranged in the order they arrive, so if you need to be near the front, arrive nice and early, for example, 45 minutes before the service.
How fast should I drive?
Funeral processions drive slowly as a sign of respect and to reflect how early, on-foot processions would’ve felt. The slow speed also enables the procession to stay together and is safer. You should drive no faster than 25-30 mph on side roads or 50 mph on the highway.
How close should I be to the vehicle in front?
You need to stay very close to the car in front while still maintaining a safe stopping distance. This is to make sure that other cars can’t cut in and break up the procession. Make sure you don’t let any other cars that aren’t part of the procession get in front of you. This still applies even if you reach a stop sign or red light — traffic laws allow vehicles in a funeral procession to keep on driving so as not to break up the procession.
Funeral procession etiquette for other drivers
If you encounter a memorial procession when driving, there is a certain etiquette you should follow.
People in the funeral procession are in mourning, so you should be respectful of their feelings and the solemn nature of the event. Don’t shout, toot your horn, or play loud music with the windows down near a funeral procession.
Don’t cut in
The vehicles in the funeral procession all need to stay together. Give way to the procession and wait until the final car has passed before you move on. The last car in the procession should have two flags on its hood and may have its hazard lights on.
Don’t pass the funeral procession
You shouldn’t try to overtake a funeral procession on a regular road, as this is disrespectful and can be unsafe. You can pass a memorial procession on the highway if there are two or more lanes, but only on the left side. It’s only acceptable to pass them on the right side if there are several lanes and the procession is traveling in the far left lane.
Funeral procession laws
Traffic laws give funeral processions the right of way and allow cars in the procession to go through red lights so as not to break up the procession. So, if you’re part of a procession and there’s a red light, you should still follow the car in front and continue driving. Other drivers should let the whole procession pass, even if they have a green light.
Note that the first car of the procession still needs to obey traffic laws and stop at red lights.
Planning a funeral procession
It might feel overwhelming to plan a funeral procession along with all the other elements of a funeral. However, your funeral director can help and support you, as they have lots of experience planning and leading funeral processions. If you’re not using a funeral director, then ask friends and family to create a plan for the procession. Perhaps there’s someone who’d be happy to take on the organization of that element.
If the funeral service itself is taking place at a funeral home, you might have some questions. Our blog post Funeral home etiquette and FAQs will let you know what to expect when visiting the funeral home and attending the service itself.