Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Funeral Follies...

Here is a guest post from "Kiki" discussing the clash between, on the one hand - respect for tradition - and on the other, the realities of modern life:

Funeral Follies

I am a church-going, respectful woman and I always stop for funeral processions and say a small prayer for the deceased. However, this past Friday, I faced a moral conundrum. I was driving on State Route 291 West where so many taxis and other drivers “fly to the Airport” and Interstate 95. I reached the intersection at Penrose Avenue to approach Interstate 95, and an unescorted funeral procession of 25-40 vehicles approached traveling at a brisk 40 miles per hour with wide gaps in between some vehicles.

My first intention was to respectfully stop at this merge, but cars were flying behind and around me and there were three vehicles in front of me that had been off-roaded by the procession to the shoulder. I was fearful of an accident. I saw a wide gap in the procession and intended to quickly get in the left lane so to not break the procession. As I merged, an SUV in the procession put their pedal to the metal and forced me to the shoulder where I nearly hit the other vehicles jammed up on the shoulder in fender benders from the procession. This deliberate act happened to vehicles behind me as well.

As I merged on to Interstate 95 off of the bridge, not infringing on the procession, the SUV traveled out of the procession and doubled their speed with the clear intent to force me into the median and into the Delaware River. It reminded me of the movie, Patriot Games, in the scene where the IRA drives Jack’s wife and daughter into the median at the merge on the interstate.

I somehow was able to swerve across two lanes into the right shoulder, risking my life as well as others. Of course, the SUV caught up to me and yelled at me and gave me inappropriate gestures. For a woman who rarely curses at strangers, I reciprocated given the fact that this driver had deliberately attempted to kill me twice. However, I could not help but feel guilty even though my life has been put at risk three times by this funeral procession. I realize that the SUV driver was in an emotional state; however, safety should come above the respect of keeping a procession together.

My nice manners had created big problems on this major interstate merger. And, then, I created some sort of road-raged funeral guest when I attempted to avoid an accident, not to disrespect the deceased. After this event, I found it necessary to review the legal standing and the etiquette of funeral processions for public safety.

I researched funeral procession laws and etiquette on-line. I was surprised to find that this is somewhat controversial. The laws for funeral processions vary from state to state and the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) now offers a book called Funeral Procession Law Analysis. "Because of the growing number of lawsuits resulting from accidents involving funeral processions, states are changing their funeral procession laws. It has become a challenge for funeral directors, lawyers, city officials and others to keep up with these changes. This new book offers clear and sensible analysis of each state's law," according to NFDA Executive Director Robert Harden in an article I found through the NFDA.

The Pennsylvania Cemetery Funeral Association (PCFA) informs funeral guests that “Although common courtesy implies that traffic would stop people often do not stop for funeral processions. Pennsylvania does have a statute requiring vehicles to stop for a funeral procession HOWEVER many drivers are unaware of the law. Caution while driving in a funeral procession must be taken seriously as accidents and injury have occurred. Do NOT assume other vehicles will stop for the funeral procession.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Motor Vehicles’ Driving Manual informs drivers to yield to vehicles in a procession unless a funeral director of police officer informs drivers otherwise. Although this is a clear-cut law, it is unfortunately not possible to follow on interstates and major interstate connectors with drivers unaware of the procession or the law.

In Delaware, the law informs drivers in a procession to drive with caution, proceed slowly, and drive closely together avoiding gaps between vehicles. This not only makes other drivers aware of the procession, but allows the appropriate reverence for the purpose of the procession in the first place.

In many states, long processions require a police escort. All bets are off for long processions remaining together on interstates, roundabouts, major intersections, and so forth. Long fast-moving processions blocking mergers are potentially fatal accidents waiting to happen.

With the fast-moving traffic of interstates and interstate connections, funeral processions should be informed to give caution and drive slowly. Further, a funeral procession, by no means, offers its drivers the excuse to off-road other vehicles into the shoulder or median.

This could all be avoided if people simply patiently stopped for funeral processions. However, this tradition that dates back to back roads and city streets is dangerous on interstates and major thorough ways. Funeral directors should inform their processions to exercise caution and laws should be created for long funeral processions on major metropolitan roads. More than anything, it is ironic to me that a funeral procession could easily cause the deaths of others when such road-rage exists among drivers today, in and out of the procession.


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