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Funeral Procession Etiquette

Even if you’ve never participated in one, chances are that you’ve seen a funeral procession on the road, and you may have wondered how they work or how you should react. Here’s a short guide to funeral procession etiquette for those planning, participating in or just encountering one. (However, as with most aspects of a funeral, bear in mind that family, religious and cultural traditions may vary, so the most important things are to listen to any instructions and be mindful of those around you.)

What is a funeral procession?

A funeral procession, also called a funeral cortege, is a procession of cars or occasionally an organized body of people on foot taking the deceased from the funeral location to the cemetery in a formal or ceremonial way. The funeral procession will usually consist of a hearse containing the casket, an escort and the cars of family members and friends of the deceased. The number of cars involved in a funeral procession may vary based on the family’s preferences.

Funeral procession etiquette for participants

If you are asked to be in a funeral procession, here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Arrive at the funeral early to give yourself time to park in the proper spot and receive instructions.
  2. Be sure to find out whether you should pass through a red light in order to stick with the car in front of you. Some states legally allow this, while others do not.
  3. If you are given a flag, place it on your car in the specified place. Flags are often used as a way to show which cars are in the funeral procession.
  4. Upon starting the procession, turn on your headlights. This is a second method to show other cars that you are part of the funeral procession.
  5. Follow the procession and stay close to the car in front of you in order to keep other cars from merging into the procession.

Funeral procession laws

There are no national laws for funeral processions; they vary state-by-state, and many have none. In some states, cars in a funeral procession may run a red light if the lead car has already passed through an intersection, so it’s a good idea to research your local laws and be aware.

What to do if you encounter a funeral procession

If you come across a funeral procession while you’re on the road, it’s important to know how to react, both from an etiquette and a legal standpoint. In some states, drivers are required to give funeral processions the right of away, even if traffic lights say otherwise. We’d recommend looking up your local laws.

Regardless of the law, the following are considered to be good funeral procession etiquette:

  • Yield to funeral processions and give the cars the right of way.
  • If possible, pull over and allow the procession to pass before proceeding.
  • Don’t attempt to join the procession or cut in between cars in the procession.
  • Avoid honking your horn or demonstrating impatience in any other way.
  • Don't attempt to give condolences to the family, especially if you don't know them.
  • Be respectful. If you're in a car and are blasting music, consider turning your music down.

Are funeral processions required?

If you’re planning a funeral, a funeral procession can be a meaningful touch but is never required. (However, you will need to arrange some form of transport to get the body to the cemetery, in the case of a burial.) The total cost of a funeral procession can near or pass $1,000 between the use of a hearse, the cost of hiring escorts, and the use of a family limousine. You should make a personal choice on whether a funeral procession feels right for your loved one. If your loved one was in the military, an official military procession may be a possibility if they wanted one or you're interested in having one. You'll can learn more information about military funeral honors here.

For more help with funeral planning, try our free funeral planning guide.

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Last updated June 15, 2022
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