Monday, March 22, 2010

Police-escorted funeral processions fading away in small towns

While large cities have been abandoning police escorts for funeral processions for several years, the trend is coming to smaller cities and towns during the recession. "The funeral cortège, a staple of mourning in the USA for generations, is rolling up against modern realities," Larry Copeland of USA Today reports. Concerns about staffing, cost and officer safety forced police in Gulfport, Miss., to limit processions to only five cars. "We could either limit the number of vehicles, or not do (funeral escorts) at all," Lt. Brian Smith, head of the city's traffic unit, told Copeland.

Liability concerns have also come to the forefront of the debate. Courts in Tennessee and Florida ruled that  police and funeral homes providing escorts for funeral processions can be held liable for crashes occurring  during the processions, Copeland reports. Most states require the lead vehicle in the procession to obey stop signs and traffic lights, but subsequent vehicles in the chain are not required to obey traffic laws.  That hasn't stopped many funeral processions from being cited for running red lights caught on traffic cameras. The Georgia House of Representatives is considering a law that would require camera companies to include on citations a box saying the vehicle owner was part of a funeral procession when the violation occurred.

Some smaller communities are still holding on to the tradition on a case-by-case basis, Copeland reports, and some even report an upswing in respect for the processions. "Years ago, everyone pulled to the side of the road and stopped when they saw a procession coming," Randall Earl of the National Funeral Directors Association told Copeland. "That tended to go by the wayside. I've noticed in the past few years, though, that there are more people doing that. I think part of it is because of the war, just respect for fallen soldiers." (Read more)

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