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
News
people
News
John Rees-Evans is standing for Ukip in Cardiff South and Penarth
news
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
Sport
David Silva, Andy Carroll, Arsene Wenger and Radamel Falcao
football
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

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£20000 - £21000 per annum: The Jenrick Group: This high quality manufacturer o...

The Jenrick Group: Electrical Maintenance Engineer

£30000 - £35000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Electrical ...

Recruitment Genius: Photo Booth Host

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company offers London's best photo booth ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers



£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers ...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'