In America, funeral processions get little respect from other drivers

 

Washington

When P.A. Wilson's big, black hearse rolls out toward the cemetery, he leads a procession of mourners whose grief has been cushioned by the traditions of death: His passenger is not dead but has "passed on." They are bound not for a grave but for a "final resting place."

Then they hit traffic, and respect for the dead falls by the wayside.

Drivers cut into the procession, they block its passage, they lean on their horns.

They ignore the "Funeral" signs on each car. They pay no mind to the blink of emergency lights or shine of headlights. They show no interest in making way for the passing of the dead.

"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."

Even as the pace of daily life has quickened with each passing decade, Wilson said, the somber passage of a funeral caused people to slow down and, he liked to think, perhaps ponder their own mortality. Now, he said, everyone "seems in a hurry to get nowhere."

Although undertakers attest that traditional respect has taken a beating in the hurly-burly, go-go atmosphere on the region's congested roads, the phenomenon is far from unique to the Washington area.

At least two people have been killed and 23 injured nationwide this year in funeral procession accidents, according to research by AAA that will be released Wednesday.

While the worst of them was in congested New York, where a minivan cut off a funeral limousine in a crash that sent 16 people to the hospital, others were in less-urban settings. More than half of the six people killed in 2011 were police officers escorting processions.

"This caliber of macabre disrespect was unthinkable a generation ago," said John Townsend II of AAA.

Wilson said a van once drove up on the sidewalk to get around a procession he was leading through the gates of a cemetery, clipping off the bumper of his hearse. On another day, an impatient driver darted between a police escort and the hearse as a cortege passed through the intersection of Bladensburg and New York avenues, racing off toward Maryland — with police in pursuit.

Wilson works at R.N. Horton's Funeral Home in Northwest Washington, but he delivers the deceased and those who grieve for them to cemeteries across the region.

"Regardless of what cemetery you're going to, you have that busy traffic, and people don't want to stop," he said. "You may have some cars stopped, and other cars run around them."

Things were very different a quarter-century ago, when Archer Harmon began his career in the funeral business in Northern Virginia's Fairfax County. In those days, cars would pull to the side of the road to let a funeral procession pass. Now, he said, many drivers simply won't wait.

"It's clear what is going on, and they still cut between the cars," said Harmon, general manager of Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home. "We have cellphones in one hand, Starbucks in the other and what is in front of you doesn't matter at that point. They just don't care, in this society we live in now."

Harmon also wondered whether the region's international diversity might contribute to confusion over funeral procession tradition.

"It may be cultural," he said. "There are some people here who may not know what a funeral procession is."

But while the particulars vary from one culture to the next, showing respect for the dead and the mourners has been universally embraced. And that respect is what funeral directors see waning.

"You can sit at a traffic light for a couple of minutes to show respect so that a funeral can go through," Wilson said. "But, no, you've got to blow your horn, you've got to run between a procession. But when the shoe's on your feet, you want everybody to stop."

Americans spend about $12 billion a year on funerals.

The District of Columbia and both adjoining states have laws that give funeral processions certain rights of way, including passing through red lights in most situations.

Getting police to escort a funeral motorcade is easier in some Washington jurisdictions than others. Short-handed departments can't comply with all requests, and some charge funeral directors for the service.

Wilson said it isn't so bad everywhere as it is around Washington.

"If you go to the South, they show respect," he said. "In the eastern part of North Carolina, the people pull to the side of the road on both sides, regardless of what race is being buried, black or white. They still show some respect."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Bookkeeper - German Speaking - Part Time

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm of accountants based ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a financial services c...

Ashdown Group: Field Service Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum + car allowance and on call: Ashdown Group: A succes...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Marketing Co-Ordinator

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established small company ...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence