Author: Sandra S. Gregor, Fredericksburg, VA Personal Injury Attorney
I have vivid memories from my childhood of my parents pulling over to the side of the road when a funeral procession approached. The cars in the procession all had their headlights on and would proceed through red lights as we waited through several light sequences. When I started driving, I followed suit. At the time, I assumed this was something the people in my small community did to pay their respects. I didn’t consider how the drivers in the procession were allowed to disobey traffic laws we were all subject to.
Under Virginia law, however, not every funeral procession affords drivers this right. Instead, it is reserved for those processions with a police or sheriff’s escort.
Funeral processions traveling under police or sheriff's escort shall have the right-of-way in any highway through which they may pass. Localities may, by ordinance, provide for such escort service and provide for the imposition of reasonable fees to defray the cost of such service. The sheriff or police department in any locality may provide traffic control for funeral processions when equipment and personnel are not otherwise engaged in law-enforcement activities.
Vehicles traveling as part of any funeral procession, whether escorted or unescorted, may display high beam headlights and flash all four turn signals or hazard lights to identify themselves as part of the procession. No vehicle that is not properly part of a funeral procession shall join, pass through, or interfere with the passage of any funeral procession under escort.
If you are in a funeral procession, you are only allowed to disobey traffic lights if the procession has a police or sheriff’s escort. Other drivers should be aware of the funeral processions as you cannot join, pass through, or interfere with the procession. However, if the procession does not have an escort, the drivers will not have the right to disregard traffic signs and signals and traffic should proceed as normal.
About the Author: Sandy Gregor is a trial attorney with 15 years of courtroom experience. She was listed as a "Rising Star" by Virginia Super Lawyers Magazine for three years and is a member of the Virginia Womens Attorney Association. Sandy's practice includes car accident litigation, wrongful death litigation, and premises liability.
 In 2014, an Alexandria man was pulled over by the police for running a red light while driving in a funeral procession causing him to miss his great-grandmother’s burial. See Clarifying right-of-way for funeral processions in Va., http://wtop.com/news/2014/06/clarifying-right-of-way-for-funeral-processions-in-va/.
 See Virginia Driver’s Manual, Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, www.dmv.virginia.gov