Funeral processions are part of an age-old tradition of mourners who follow the dearly departed from the memorial site to the final resting place. Where this used to be accomplished on foot in older times, the modern funeral procession is now often a line of automobiles headed to the gravesite. This mark of respect for the dead can have the unfortunate side effect of traffic congestion and even vehicular collisions. It is important for all Michigan drivers to understand their rights and responsibilities when participating in or encountering a funeral procession on the roadway.
VEHICLES PARTICIPATING IN THE FUNERAL PROCESSION
MCL 257.654(1) states the following:
- “A motor vehicle forming part of a funeral procession, when going to a place of burial, shall have the right of way over all other vehicles except fire apparatus, ambulances, and police patrol vehicles at a street or highway intersection within this state if the vehicle in the funeral procession displays a flag which shall be fluorescent orange in color, and upon which shall be printed, stamped, or stained a black cross, the star of David, or the crescent and star. The lead vehicle and the last vehicle in the funeral procession may carry an additional flag. The flags shall not contain a name embossed or printed on the flag, except the word ‘funeral’.”
A person who violates this statute is responsible for a civil infraction punishable by a fine and two points added to his or her Michigan driving record.
“Right-of-way” means “the privilege of the immediate use of the highway”. MCL 257.53. The statute explicitly gives right-of-way over “all other vehicles besides fire trucks, ambulances and police vehicles. However, does it give the funeral procession the right to go through stop signs and traffic signals? On one hand, MCL 257.611(1) states “[t]he driver of a vehicle or operator of a streetcar shall not disobey the instructions of a traffic control device placed in accordance with this chapter unless at the time otherwise directed by a police officer.” The statute does not explicitly permit passage through a solid red light or other signage (contrast with Nevada law, which explicitly permits the funeral procession to pass through a red light).
On the other hand, the Michigan Court of Appeals believes that the funeral right-of-way statute should not be so restrictive in application. In Mentel v Monroe Public Schools, 47 Mich App 467 (1973), the plaintiff was operating her automobile as a part of a funeral procession when she sustained injuries as a result of a collision with the defendant’s bus. The first several vehicles of the procession entered an intersection on a green light; plaintiff entered the intersection on a red light and struck defendant’s bus. The trial court granted a direct verdict in favor of the defendant, ruling that the plaintiff was negligent as a matter of law because the funeral right-of-way statute has no application at an intersection controlled by a traffic-control device. The Michigan Court of Appeals disagreed, stating that funeral right-of-way statute was applicable against both vehicles and traffic-control devices, but that the plaintiff still had to observe a duty of care when passing through the intersection. If the plaintiff was neglect in exercising her right-of-way, then it would be judged under the individual facts and circumstances of the case.
In sum, Michigan drivers in a funeral procession will generally be allowed the right-of-way through an intersection against other vehicles and traffic signals unless the exercise of the right-of-way is unreasonable under the circumstances.
VEHICLES NOT PARTICIPATING IN THE FUNERAL PROCESSION
MCL 257.654(2) states the following:
- “A person passing through a funeral procession of motor vehicles…, with a vehicle of any kind, is responsible for a civil infraction.”
Passing through a funeral procession means crossing the path between any two vehicles designated by flags to be within that funeral procession. It does not matter that the driver does not actually slow down or stop the funeral procession when passing through. Any driver who violates this statute is responsible for a civil infraction punishable by a fine and two points added to his or her Michigan driving record.
A person accused of a civil infraction is not required to admit responsibility and can request a formal or informal hearing before a district court judge or magistrate. If you simply pay the ticket, keep in mind that moving violations are abstracted to the Michigan Secretary of State. This means they are detectable by your automobile insurance carrier who may raise your premiums if it decides that you are an increased risk on the road. An experienced traffic attorney can assist you by negotiating with the prosecutor for a reduction of charges to a no-points violation or even an outright dismissal.
If you or a loved one is accused of any traffic violation, do not hesitate to contact the skilled lawyers at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC today.