MOUNT VERNON — Typically, when motorists meet a funeral procession, they pull off to the side of the road and wait while funeral traffic passes by as a sign of respect. Unfortunately, more and more funeral directors were seeing a decline in etiquette and patience — until the Mount Vernon Police Department stepped in.
In June, the MVPD resurrected its practice of providing an escort for processions through the city of Mount Vernon. This gesture has helped change the attitude of city motorists.
“It’s really been beneficial,” said Wes Snyder of Snyder Funeral Homes. “We work in a lot of communities and Mount Vernon is the only one to provide this kind of service.”
He said that since escorts have been leading processions, he has seen an estimated 40 to 50 percent increase in the number of vehicles that pull over and stop as the marked cars pass by.
Mount Vernon Police Capt. George Hartz said the department has provided escorts for around 40 funerals since June and his officers have not reported any complaints regarding disruptive or disrespectful motorists. The MVPD will take processions just outside the city limits and does not charge for the service, Hartz said.
Although there are no actual laws that require motorists to pull over for funeral processions, Hartz cautions drivers to be aware of their surroundings before doing so.
“If pulling over to the side of the road causes a traffic hazard, perhaps you should not stop,” Hartz said. “But we should all remember what if that was your family member or friend, you would want others to show you that respect.”
The Ohio Revised Code does require traffic to yield the right of way to vehicles in the procession, especially at intersections. Vehicles participating in the drive to the cemetery must carry an orange or purple flag and have their headlights turned on.
“We always slow down through an intersection in the middle of a green light because some drivers don’t always see the orange flag or realize that it is a funeral procession,” Snyder said.
In smaller, rural areas, it is even less likely to see traffic stop for a funeral procession.
“Traffic occasionally will stop,” said Tim Moreland of Johnson Melick Moreland Funeral Home in Centerburg. “The number of people that stop is really less and less.”
Taking processions out of the city limits, funeral directors realize it might not be in the public’s safety for traffic to pull over and stop. Moreland said he has seen motorists pull over to the side of the road and a police escort motioned for them to continue because it was not a safe place to stop.
“Some people do stop out on 55-mile-per-hour roads. Some don’t. It just depends on their mentality,” Snyder said.
Moreland encourages motorists to be respectful when approaching a procession and to use as much caution as possible for everyone’s safety.
Brent Lasater of Dilley-Lasater Funeral Homes agrees with Moreland and said it is a little harder to get people to pull over on the highways but the situation in the city is much improved with police escorts.
“The Mount Vernon Police Department has put awareness and respect back into funeral processions,” Lasater said. “It just takes a few minutes to pull over and let the lead car and family go by.”