The Right-of Way During a Funeral Procession
Last week in our ongoing discussion of civil liability and negligence per se, we talked about the duty of drivers to yield to emergency vehicles. This requirement, laid out in OCGA 40-6-74, protects the public safety, both on the road and at the sites of emergencies that need a prompt response.
This week, we’ll talk about another kind of vehicle, or rather, group of vehicles, that other drivers are required to yield to: funeral processions.
Remember, negligence per se is the idea that breaking safety rules is always unreasonable behavior. This is important for determining civil liability, because a person who hurts another person is only legally liable for the damages if the actions that led to that harm were outside the realm of what a “reasonable person” would do. Under negligence per se, a broken safety rule eliminates the need to argue about the standards of this theoretical reasonable person.
Even though yielding to a funeral procession is based more on social convention than an urgent safety concern, this law, like all traffic laws, is still considered a safety rule. That’s because the road is a dangerous enough place that even a momentary misunderstanding can have devastating consequences.
So, without further ado, let’s look at what OCGA 40-6-76 has to say about funeral processions and right of way.
Recognizing a Funeral Procession
A funeral procession is a convoy of vehicles traveling together as part of a funeral service, usually between a funeral home or place of worship and a cemetery. For the convoy to be recognized as a funeral procession and protected accordingly under the law, there must be an identifying sign or symbol on the lead car, provided by the funeral home, and all cars in the procession must identify themselves by keeping their headlights on.
(a) As used in this Code section, a “funeral procession” means an array of motor vehicles in which the lead vehicle displays a sign, pennant, flag, or other insignia furnished by a funeral home indicating a funeral procession unless led by a state or local law enforcement vehicle and each vehicle participating in the funeral procession is operating its headlights.
Often, funeral processions will be escorted by law enforcement, to ensure the procession’s special right of way is observed safely. Local police may charge to cover this service, and some processions may choose to go without it.
(c) Funeral processions escorted by the police, a sheriff, or a sheriff’s deputy shall have the right of way in any street or highway through which they may pass. Local governments may, by ordinance, provide for such escort service and provide for the imposition of reasonable fees to defray the cost of such service.
Although the laws and customs surrounding funeral processions have been around for a long time, many people don’t know what they are or how to respond when they see one. This can lead to tragic errors.
Participating in a Funeral Procession
Vehicles in a funeral procession are expected to stay in formation with their headlights on. Only vehicles authorized by the funeral home at the beginning of the procession may participate. Anyone cutting in line while the procession is already in progress, whether they’re a guest who arrived late or a stranger trying to take advantage of the procession’s right of way, is breaking the law.
(e) Operators of vehicles not a part of a funeral procession shall not join a funeral procession by operating their headlights for the purpose of securing the right of way granted by this Code section to funeral processions.
Funeral processions have the right to stay together on the road, but their right of way doesn’t end there. Not interrupting the convoy is only the first of the ways other drivers must defer to a funeral procession.
Yielding to a Funeral Procession
Funeral processions also have the right of way at intersections, just like emergency vehicles, meaning they can continue through red lights and stop signs without stopping. This is part of why a police escort can be helpful. Without an escort, some lead cars may choose to stop at red lights for safety, but once the lead car crosses the intersection, the rest of the procession will follow regardless of the light, as if it were all a single vehicle.
Because yielding to a funeral procession is a matter of respect, rather than an emergency, actual emergency vehicles outrank the vehicles of a funeral procession. Like anyone else on the road, procession vehicles must still pull over for ambulances, fire engines, and non-escort police with their lights or sirens active. The civilian drivers of a funeral procession must also follow the instructions of escorting police officers. This includes yielding when told to do so.
(b) Funeral processions shall have the right of way at intersections subject to the following conditions and exceptions:
(1) Operators of vehicles in a funeral procession shall yield the right of way upon the approach of an authorized emergency vehicle or law enforcement vehicle giving an audible and visual signal; and
(2) Operators of vehicles in a funeral procession shall yield the right of way when directed to do so by a traffic officer.
As in any case where there are coordinating officers on the scene, police may direct traffic however is necessary for safety and efficiency, even if it means allowing other vehicles to interrupt the procession. Any driver following direct orders from an onsite police officer is not breaking the law.
(d) The operator of a vehicle not in a funeral procession shall not interrupt a funeral procession except when authorized to do so by a traffic officer or when such vehicle is an authorized emergency vehicle or law enforcement vehicle giving an audible and visual signal.
In addition to keeping funeral processions together and yielding right of way at intersections, other drivers must refrain from passing funeral processions on roads that only have two lanes.
(f) The operator of a vehicle not in a funeral procession shall not attempt to pass vehicles in a funeral procession on a two-lane highway.
This one is a simple matter of safety; funeral processions can be quite long, merging into them is illegal, and a vehicle attempting to pass might not be able to get all the way to the front before meeting with oncoming traffic.
Penalties for Interfering with a Funeral Procession
Interfering with or falsely joining a funeral procession is a misdemeanor and carries a fine of up to $100, but if there’s an accident, the penalty in civil court can be much more severe.
(g) Any person violating subsection (d), (e), or (f) of this Code section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not to exceed $100.00.
(h) Any law enforcement officer who is directing or escorting a funeral procession in this state, whether such service is provided while on duty or not, shall enjoy the same immunities from liability as the officer possesses while in the performance of other official duties.
Participants in a funeral procession are following the law by keeping formation, claiming right of way, and following the directions of any escorting police. Those escorting police are considered on duty, meaning they’re immune to liability unless they deviate from standard procedures with obvious disregard for the safety of others.
An outside driver who interrupts or fails to yield, on the other hand, is guilty of negligence per se and liable for any resulting damages. Given the number of vehicles packed tightly together during a funeral procession, those damages can be particularly extensive.
What Damages Can You Recover If Someone Doesn’t Yield to a Funeral Procession?
The day you bury a loved one should never be the day you also have to deal with new troubles, like injuries from a car accident. Unfortunately, we can’t always control the timing of these things, but you can rest assured that, if your accident was caused by someone interrupting your funeral procession, the law is on your side. The Wetherington Law Firm can help you recover the full damages incurred in the accident — both special damages and general damages. Read on to learn about the difference.
Special Damages Pay Your Bills
When calculating the damage caused by an accident, the obvious financial losses are the easiest place to start. These include your medical expenses, vehicle repair or replacement if you were using your own car in the procession, and replacement of any other valuables destroyed in the collision. Special damages need to be carefully documented, but thankfully, these are the kinds of losses that come with receipts and bills. You will also need to prove that the accident directly or proximately caused your expenses. To learn more about how the Wetherington Law Firm can help you do this, click here.
General Damages Acknowledge Your Emotional Losses
A car accident affects much more than just your finances. The pain, trauma, and physical limitations due to injury can be extremely daunting to recover from under the best of circumstances, let alone while you’re already grieving the loss of a loved one. If you needed immediate medical attention after the accident, there’s a good chance you missed the funeral altogether, losing a chance for closure you can never get back. These kinds of losses are by their nature unrecoverable, but general damages are the best solution we have in an imperfect world. This additional sum, on top of your quantifiable special damages, is intended to acknowledge and help compensate for some of the emotional damage of the accident. Because of their subjective nature, general damage awards vary greatly in size, even across very similar incidents, but the Wetherington Law Firm has the experience necessary to make sure you get the best possible settlement.
What If Someone Died in the Accident?
If you’ve read this far because you’ve lost a loved one before you even had the chance to put another lost loved one to rest, you have our deepest sympathies. We’ll be glad to talk with you about how we can help you find justice, but wrongful death cases have some special rules you’ll need to be aware of. Click here to learn more.
Why Do I Need a Lawyer?
The stress of legal proceedings, and the worry about whether you’ll be able to get the settlement you need to cover your expenses, is the last thing you should have to worry about while recovering from an accident, let alone while grieving a loved one. The Wetherington Law Firm will make the process as smooth and painless as possible for you, so that you can put your focus where it’s needed most. Additionally, having highly qualified representation, like one of our firm’s seasoned professionals, greatly increases your chances of a fair settlement. Sadly, there’s no such thing as an open-and-shut case, especially when car insurance companies are involved. With us on your side, you won’t have to worry about falling for one of the insurance company’s carefully laid traps and ending up with less than you deserve.
How to Hire the Best Car Wreck Lawyers in Atlanta
After an accident, a death, or both, money is almost always an issue. At the Wetherington Law Firm, we’ll never add to your financial woes. Our job is to do the exact opposite. If we take your case, it will be on a contingency basis, which means we don’t get paid until we win for you. We’ll stick by you for as long as it takes, because your success is our success.
We do this because we believe everyone deserves professional support at these most difficult moments in life, and no one should ever be bullied out of pursuing justice because they can’t afford to keep the fight going.
To get started discussing the details of your case with one of our expert attorneys, reach out by phone at 404-888-4444 or email for a free, no-obligation consultation.
Working with the Wetherington Law Firm Helps Support Positive Change
While the laws protecting funeral processions are clear, they’re not nearly as well-known as they should be. This is just one of many underlying problems that lead to strings of similar accidents, and part of what we do at the Wetherington Law Firm is address those problems, to help protect others in the future. If your accident was part of a pattern you’d like to see broken, you’ve come to the right firm. For example, if your accident was caused by a commercial vehicle cutting in to your funeral procession, we’ll investigate that company’s training procedures and push for greater awareness of the law. To learn more about how we’ve helped our clients drive positive change, give us a call today!