The Custom of Pulling Over for Funeral Processions

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Funeral for Devil Anse Hatfield.
Funeral for Devil Anse Hatfield.

Funerals are sad business and have a way of making the grieving mourners feel so alone.

Not too long ago, however, a common practice flourished throughout the United States of allowing the grieving families an opportunity to know they had the full respect of total strangers: Oncoming motorists would pull over as a funeral procession approached their vehicle.

“That went on everywhere when I was a kid,” stated, Garland Ann, a 76-year-old North Carolina woman, adding, “Nowadays it seems like it only goes on out in the country.  Everybody else is too busy to pause from their lives for thirty seconds.”

The North Carolina grandmother went on to recall why she appreciates the practice, “It’s just a sign of respect — a way of saying ‘We don’t know you, but we know that you’re hurting and therefore we’re going to pause of a few seconds to show our respect.  It’s how things were done when I was younger and I sure miss that level of respect people had for strangers.”

Though I had heard of the age-old practice nearly my entire life, I had never really personally noticed it until relatively recently when my grandfather passed away in Southern West Virginia and without fail, every single vehicle pulled to the side of the road and came to a stop as the procession winded through the country roads from the funeral home to the family cemetery.  For me, it filled my grieving soul with pride and a mutual respect for those people — I found myself waving with appreciation to the parked vehicles as we passed; providing a brief reprieve from heartache.

Each state’s laws regarding funeral processions vary widely and it would be impossible to correctly detail acceptable behavior for all funeral processions as the variables are so drastically different; however, like Garland, we sure are fond of the idea of the level of respect the simple act of moving over as a funeral procession passes.

Interestingly, the odds of a motorist being in an auto accident are elevated when traveling in or encountering a funeral procession, as it creates a nightmare with regard to who has the right-of-way.  Attorneys are quick to argue that pulling over when an oncoming funeral procession is passing is quite dangerous.

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