We Hoosiers thinks of ourselves as friendly, respectful “rule-followers”. But what must we do when we are driving and come upon a funeral procession? Ask five friends and you are likely to get five different answers. Many believe that motorists must pull over to “show respect”. Others think you must pull over because the escorts are police vehicles with flashing lights.
The truth is that motorists who are not in the actual procession only have to yield the right of way to funeral processions passing through intersections. Approaching traffic does not stop or pull over. Traffic moving the same direction as the procession may even pass on the left on a multi-lane highway if it can be done safely!
It is vital for all motorists to be following the same rules. Otherwise, crashes will result. And in the case of funeral processions, crashes have been happening since cars were invented. This is what happens when “custom” and the “what I was taught” collides with the actual “rules of the road”. If some drivers pull over/stop for a procession to “show respect”, while others do not, you get collisions. The traffic laws exist to prevent crashes. We all need to follow them.
To be fair to the folks who feel like they should pull over “to show courtesy”, this business of yielding to funeral processions has been a custom for a long time. A 1918 case, Beck v. Indianapolis Traction & Terminal Co., concerned a crash between the lead car in a procession and a street car (on tracks). The Court recognized that the “custom” had been for City street cars to yield to funeral processions, so the lead funeral car tried to cross the tracks. It was hit by the street car. The street cars and their tracks no longer exist, but the “custom” has lingered on to this day.
Confusion likely also exists in part because Indiana law gives police escort vehicles the right to use flashing lights, including red lights. The red lights look like those used on emergency runs by police, fire, and ambulances. But the purpose of the red lights is only to give the funeral procession the right of way at intersections. Vehicles in funeral processions, including the escorts, are not working as “emergency vehicles”. Police officers who escort the procession are not engaged in “enforcement of the law”.
Some “funeral procession” rules under Indiana law:
a funeral escort vehicle must be clearly marked with the words "funeral escort";
A vehicle with lighted headlights in a funeral procession has the right-of-way at an intersection if properly marked;
All funeral procession vehicles must yield the right of way at all times to police/fire/EMS on an actual emergency run;
If you are not part of it, you can’t drive between vehicles in the funeral procession;
If you’re not part of it, you can’t “slip into” the procession by joining it and turning on your headlights just to get the right of way;
The lead/funeral escort vehicles may use yellow flashing lights;
The lead/funeral escort vehicles may use flashing red lights, but only to gain the right of way at intersections;
All vehicles in a procession must drive with due caution;
All vehicles in a procession must follow the preceding vehicle “as closely as is practical and safe”;
All vehicles in a procession must have headlights and taillights illuminated;
The vehicle immediately behind the lead vehicle, and the last vehicle may use the hazard warning lights;
All vehicles in a procession may, but don’t have to, have funeral pennants, flags, or windshield stickers;
Indiana Code 9-21-13-6: “A person who drives a vehicle may pass a funeral procession on the procession's left side on a multiple lane highway if the passing can be done safely.”