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: SEO Specialist

£21000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an e...

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat