While funeral processions aren’t quite as common as they once were, they’re still a familiar sight for many of us. In fact, a lot of families still find a great deal of comfort in the tradition.

If you’re thinking about including a funeral procession in a loved one’s send-off (or if you’re worried you won’t know what to do when taking part) you’ll find everything you need to know here. Plus, we’ll also cover the funeral procession traffic laws in the UK – useful for anyone who’s ever spotted one on the road and wondered what to do. Let’s begin…


What is a funeral procession?

A funeral procession is a tradition in which the family and close friends of someone who has died, along with other mourners, follow behind their coffin as it travels towards its final resting place. It is sometimes called a funeral cortège.

In the past, a funeral procession in the UK would usually be on foot. Male family members would carry the coffin through the streets and recite prayers or psalms along the way.

Nowadays, a modern UK funeral procession usually starts at the home of the person who’s died. It is led by the hearse, with the family and sometimes close friends following behind in limousines or cars. The procession will travel to the funeral service, starting again after the service as the coffin is taken to the crematorium, burial ground or cemetery.

Occasionally, you might see the funeral director walking in front of the hearse for a short distance. This is seen as a sign of respect, and allows other cars the opportunity to join or catch up to the procession. In the rare instance that a horse and carriage hearse is used, he or she might walk the whole route.


Funeral procession etiquette

So, what do you need to know if you’re joining a funeral procession, or if you see one on the road? Here are the essentials:


Driving in a funeral procession

A lot of people worry about getting it right when driving in a funeral procession. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Arrive early. This gives you a chance to park close to the other cars in the procession before it sets off, and check what order the cars will be travelling in. You may be given a flag or plume to put on your car to mark it as part of the funeral cortège.
  • Know the route. Check the route with the funeral director ahead of time. This will allow you to rejoin the procession if you get left behind.
  • Drive slowly. Usually, funeral processions move at about 20 to 30 miles per hour. Follow the lead of the car in front.
  • Stay close. Drive as close as you can to the car in front while leaving a safe braking distance between you. Try not to let drivers who aren’t part of the procession cut in.
  • Don’t panic if you get split up. These things happen – just continue on the route and rejoin the group later.
  • Follow the usual driving rules. Safety first! Even if you’re in a funeral procession, traffic laws still apply. You still have to stop for lights, for example, even if it breaks up the procession.
  • Check where to park. It’s a good idea to scope out the parking situation at the place the service will be held, especially if you’re driving guests with limited mobility. Websites like Parkopedia can help with this.


Following the right order in the funeral procession

When driving, the order the cars in the funeral procession travel in is usually something like this:

  1. The hearse, potentially with the funeral director walking in front
  2. The chief mourners. This is usually the immediate family: their spouse and children, or their parents and siblings.
  3. Other close family and friends. The order in which these cars follow doesn’t matter very much, but it can help to agree what the order will be ahead of time

It’s up to the family members who are arranging the funeral to decide things like the funeral procession order in church and other service locations. But they generally tend to be organised like this:

  1. The officiant (and the choir, if there is one) leads the procession in for religious services, while the celebrant or funeral director usually leads secular (non-religious) processions
  2. The coffin follows, with honorary pallbearers in front of it if there are any
  3. The chief mourners walk behind the coffin
  4. Close family and friends complete the procession, walking in an order they’ve agreed on

As the coffin passes, other people attending the service stand (if they’re able to) out of respect.


Funeral procession traffic laws in the UK

As mentioned, there are no special legal exceptions that might apply to a funeral procession. Road rules still need to be obeyed by those in the procession and around it. However, there are still a few dos and don’ts that you should consider following as a sign of respect, if you can do so safely:

Funeral procession dos and don’ts for drivers:

  • Do give way. Does a funeral procession have right of way? Legally speaking, no. But you should nevertheless give way to the cars in a procession whenever it’s safe to do so.
  • Don’t cut in. It’s considered very disrespectful to cut in on the middle of a funeral procession, or to tag on the end. Give the cortege plenty of space. If you cut in accidentally, then swiftly turning off or pulling over for the funeral procession is likely the best move, as long as it’s safe to do so.
  • Do use your judgement when overtaking. Unless it’s a real emergency, try to be patient when you’re stuck behind a procession and don’t overtake. This is also a matter of safety: there can be a lot of cars, and overtaking them all at once isn’t exactly wise. On a dual carriageway, overtaking is more acceptable, but use your judgement and try to pass quietly.
  • Don’t be noisy. Turn off any music playing in the car. Don’t honk the horn or rev your engine either – be patient!

For pedestrians:

  • Do pause for thought. If you’re a pedestrian, stopping for a funeral procession is a nice gesture. Most people don’t doff their caps any more, but bowing your head is a small way to acknowledge the sorrow of the occasion.
  • Don’t cross the road in front. Don’t press the button or linger at a crossing until the procession has passed.

These dos and don’ts are matters of funeral procession etiquette, more than anything else. Nothing will happen to you if you don’t follow them. But they are a sign of respect for the person who has died, which many families appreciate.

Do you have any questions about funeral processions? Send a private message to our team using the comment box below.

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