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Funeral Processions

Understanding Funeral Processions in New Hampshire and Vermont

Funeral processions are a longstanding tradition, serving as a final tribute to the deceased while providing the bereaved with a sense of collective mourning and support. 

In New Hampshire and Vermont, like elsewhere, participating in or encountering a funeral procession on the road demands a specific etiquette and adherence to local laws. This comprehensive guide delves deeper into the practices, legal requirements, and etiquette surrounding funeral processions.

The Significance of Funeral Processions

A funeral procession is more than a convoy of vehicles from one point to another; it’s a deeply symbolic journey, marking the transition from a service commemorating the deceased’s life to their final resting place. This practice has roots in ancient customs and is observed with solemn respect in many cultures around the world. For family and close friends, being part of this procession is a poignant part of the farewell process.

Participating in a Procession

Preparation and Positioning: The organization of a funeral procession typically begins at a funeral home or a place of worship. Participants should arrive early—approximately 45 minutes before the procession starts—to receive instructions and ensure their vehicle is correctly positioned. Close family and friends not in the first limousine or hearse are usually positioned at the beginning of the procession to follow directly behind these primary vehicles.

Driving Etiquette: The procession moves slower than the regular traffic flow, creating a solemn pace reflective of the event’s gravity. Participants are advised to keep a close yet safe distance from the vehicle in front to prevent gaps that could allow non-participants to cut in. Headlights, and often hazard lights, remain on to signal participation to other road users.

In many jurisdictions, including parts of New Hampshire and Vermont, participants in a funeral procession are allowed to follow the lead vehicle through red traffic lights, provided the lead vehicle had legally entered the intersection. This rule helps maintain the procession’s continuity, although it requires careful attention to safety and respect for non-participating traffic.

Identification: Vehicles within the procession may be marked with funeral flags or signs, and the last vehicle typically has two such flags and its hazard lights, signaling the procession’s end. This helps other drivers recognize and respect the procession’s boundaries.

Duties of Other Drivers

When encountering a funeral procession, other drivers have a responsibility to act respectfully and safely. Recognizing a funeral procession is the first step. A procession starts with the hearse, followed by vehicles with headlights and, possibly, hazard lights on, and special flags or markers.

Yielding: The most crucial etiquette for non-participants is to yield to the procession. This means not interrupting or inserting oneself into the procession, not overtaking vehicles in the procession, and allowing the entire procession to pass before proceeding, especially at intersections.

Respect and Patience: It’s vital to approach funeral processions with a sense of respect for the deceased and their grieving loved ones. Displaying patience, even if the procession slightly delays your travel, is a way of offering silent support to those in mourning.

Legal Considerations

New Hampshire Laws: New Hampshire provides a legal framework for funeral processions, ensuring their smooth passage and safety. The lead vehicle, often equipped with a purple flashing light, must adhere to normal traffic signals but, once in motion, all vehicles following it in the procession are granted the right of way. This law underscores the importance of uninterrupted processions for both symbolic and safety reasons.

Vermont’s Approach: While specific laws can vary, Vermont also recognizes the sanctity of funeral processions, with similar expectations for both participants and other drivers on the road. Across both states, the emphasis is on safety, respect, and the right of way for the procession.

For Non-Participants: Key laws for drivers not in the procession include prohibitions on joining a procession for the sake of convenience, driving between procession vehicles, and overtaking the procession on two-lane roads. Such actions are not only disrespectful but can be dangerous and are often punishable by fines.

Showing Respect

Respecting a funeral procession is akin to acknowledging the loss and mourning of others. It’s an opportunity to show compassion and empathy, even to strangers. Simple acts of patience and understanding—such as not honking, rushing, or displaying frustration—can make a significant difference to the families and friends of the deceased.

The Role of Funeral Homes

Funeral homes play a pivotal role in organizing and managing funeral processions. They provide the necessary flags, markers, and instructions to participants, ensuring everyone knows their place and the procession’s protocol. They also guide the procession safely to its destination, often coordinating with local law enforcement to assist with traffic management for larger processions.

Participating in or encountering a funeral procession is a shared societal experience that calls for sensitivity, respect, and understanding. By adhering to the outlined etiquettes and legal requirements, individuals can contribute to a dignified and smooth passage for the bereaved, offering them a sense of peace and closure during a difficult time. Whether in New Hampshire, Vermont, or any other region, recognizing and respecting the significance of funeral processions is a testament to our collective humanity and empathy toward those experiencing loss.

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