Passing funeral processions: Are you breaking the law?

We have all seen it before: a long line of cars, driving slowly, headlights on during the day, sometimes accompanied by a police car. Most recognize this as a funeral procession and pull over, affording it the respect it deserves. Others seem to pay no mind and, in a hurry to get somewhere, attempt to cut through the procession. This is disrespectful to the family, dangerous, and –in Virginia– illegal.

The beginning of a funeral procession

A Virginia statute provides that any funeral procession under a police or sheriff’s escort has the right-of-way on any highway, and that no vehicle not part of the procession shall “join, pass through, or interfere” with such a procession.  Another Virginia statute states that it is unlawful for any driver “intentionally to impede or disrupt a funeral procession.” The latter section applies not only to funeral processions led by a law enforcement officer, but to any procession which is escorted or led by a vehicle displaying flashing amber or purple lights. A third Virginia statute permits any law enforcement vehicle, while operated by or under the direction of an appropriate law enforcement office as a funeral escort, to disregard speed limits, red lights, parking or stopping prohibitions, and turning and passing prohibitions, so long as the escort still shows due regard for the safety of other persons and property. In other words,  when you see a funeral procession, just sit tight. It doesn’t matter if you have the green light, the right of way through an intersection, or are in a hurry to get to an appointment. Most of the time the funeral procession has the right of way.

The penalty for choosing not to wait for the procession is a hefty four points, which will stay on your driving record with the Virginia DMV for three years. As a moving violation, the penalty can also increase the premium you pay for automobile insurance.

Waiting for a funeral procession to pass by is not only courteous, but it’s also the smart, safe, legal, and less expensive choice.

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