A recent post doing the rounds in social media across Australia has stated that a funeral cortege or funeral procession has complete ‘right of way’ moving through traffic. It was written by a funeral director in NSW for local readers, with links to an article from the USA.
There’s no ‘right of way’ for funeral processions in Victoria
In Victoria, the road rules talk about ‘giving way’ to other road users, and not who has ‘right of way’. In fact under the rules no user has ‘right of way’.
In New South Wales there is a rule that states a driver must not interfere or interrupt a funeral procession, and a person can be fined for doing so. Victorians should note that there is no corresponding rule in the Victorian road rules.
Funeral processions must obey the road rules
In Victoria, we are not aware of drivers of vehicles in funeral processions being exempt from the road rules. In fact Victoria Police have previously been quoted as stating “Victoria Police will not consent to allowing vehicles to travel through red lights due to funeral processions unless the intersection is controlled and directed by traffic management plans or police members”.
And in the past drivers have been investigated for breaking road rules, driving unregistered vehicles, unlicensed driving and running red lights when in a funeral procession.
Funeral processions however are exempt under the Road Safety (Traffic Management) Regulations 2009 from needing permission for the procession from the relevant road authority, as other organised processions are required to do.
Head lights and hazard lights
It is common practice in funeral processions to drive with the headlights and hazard lights on. Vehicles can have their headlights on low beam when in a funeral procession, but there’s no road rule expressly allowing hazard lights to be used in a funeral procession.
The road rules permit the use of hazard lights if you are driving slowly and likely to obstruct other vehicles (road rule 221). Notes at the end of the rule explain that a vehicle does not obstruct other vehicles ONLY because it is going more slowly. The road rules consider an obstruction to be a traffic hazard. Hence we caution against using hazard lights in a funeral procession if the sole purpose for using the lights is only that the procession is moving more slowly than other traffic. You may be fined if you do.
Be prepared – know where the service and burial will take place
Driving in a funeral procession is seen as a symbol of support and respect, as well as a way to lead family and friends to a cemetery.
If you are attending a funeral, know where the service will be held as well as the burial. Maps with the layout of the major cemeteries are available in the Melway street directory and from cemetery websites. If you know how to find the cemetery and gravesite within it, there will be less pressure on a driver to take risks to stay within a funeral procession.
Drive within the law, but show respect
If you do come across a funeral procession, drive in a respectful manner and when possible take extra care to avoid breaking up the procession, even if you might be slightly inconvenienced. Families and friends in a funeral procession will be distressed, and a little bit of understanding will be appreciated.
If you are in a funeral procession remember that the road rules still apply. That includes stopping for a yellow light if safe to do so, stopping at red lights and stop signs, and giving way at give way signs, even if it means breaking up the funeral procession.
(Image source: iStock.com/RichLegg)
Edit: 6 February 2017 – link for exemptions for funeral processions updated to refer to the Road Safety (Traffic Management) Regulations 2009 on advice from VicRoads.