By Jordan W. Charness

Funerals tend to bring out the best in people. Everyone who attends a funeral does so out of a feeling of compassion and obligation. Some are there to help comfort the mourners while others feel compelled to attend so as to honour the memory of the deceased. Although you may not know exactly what to say or do, you try your very best to say and do the right things in a nearly impossible situation.

In a strange way, funerals and cars somehow end up going together. To begin with, the automobile is probably the most common cause of unnatural death in our modern society. Its victims include drivers, passengers and pedestrians. Even a stray animal is not immune from the devastation that can be caused by a car.

But the car itself is just a piece of machinery. While stationary it can cause no harm. Putting a driver behind the wheel changes the equation. Although it’s true that some accidents are just accidents, too many fatalities are caused by the human factor. Sometimes the least reliable and predictable part in the vehicle is the part between the steering wheel and the driver’s seat.

Obvious factors include speeding, alcohol, poor judgment and flagrant disregard for the rules of the road. All too many accidents, however, are caused by the complacency of drivers who have been driving for many years. Some studies have shown that some of the best drivers are those who have recently graduated from driver’s school. What they lack in experience they make up for in technical know-how and recent study.

The vast majority of drivers have been driving for many years – some for many decades. Although our law does not currently require any additional testing or driving courses after you have been initially granted your license it is something that is raised by almost every government as a possibility for the future.

At the moment you can obtain a driver’s license when you are as young as 16 or 17 and can keep your driving privileges throughout your life without ever having to be tested again. There are of course exceptions to this rule: these may include medical reasons, or the fact that your driving privileges were taken away because you broke the law. In these and other instances you may be required to take a driving test before being allowed to drive again.

Funerals have a tendency to start exactly on time. The ceremony is brief and you don’t want to arrive late. Some of my policeman friends have told me that they have often heard the excuse from someone they have just ticketed for speeding that the driver was “late for a funeral”. This is no excuse nor is it a defence against the ticket.

When the funeral is over there are usually a large number of cars trying to exit from the same parking lot all at the same time. In addition, the funeral procession is led by the hearse and possibly some limousines for the family. Those close to the family may follow along behind the hearse in a continuing line of cars all trying to show respect to the deceased by accompanying him or her to the cemetery. All of this may lead to quiet pandemonium on the street.

There is a persistent rumour that cars in a funeral procession have the right of way and may go through traffic lights and stop signs in order to keep up with the hearse. There was a time when people indicated that their cars were part of the funeral procession by turning their headlights on. Other cars would avoid cutting into the procession so as to keep it whole.

Things have changed. Every car in Canada is now required by law to have daytime running lights which usually take the form of the front headlights being on at all times. It is therefore no longer possible to show that you are part of a funeral procession by leaving your headlights on. This is probably just as well since there actually is no law that gives right-of-way or priority to members of the funeral procession.

In fact hearses, limousines, and those following are required to obey all the usual traffic rules and regulations. Unless the procession is accompanied by a police escort blocking off the side streets as it passes along, each member of the procession must stop at all red lights and stop signs. Since police escorted funerals are a rarity, those of us paying our last respects to friends and relatives must still obey the rules of the road.

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