Losing a loved one who transitions to our Lord is difficult. As my pastor told me during the death of my mother, grieving requires hard but necessary work. A process and part of grieving is going with family and friends to the gravesite to inter and say goodbye to the earthly body.
That process certainly does not need to be interrupted by a rude and reckless driver, either ignoring the laws of this state or not paying attention. So, what does North Carolina law require when a motorist either comes upon a funeral procession from behind or from the opposite direction?
Our law is contained in N.C.G.S § 20-157.1. The law requires each car in the procession to have both its headlights on and hazards flashing. The cars shall drive on the right side of the roadway and may proceed through stop signs and stop lights as long as the car is in the procession line.
The cars not in the procession shall not join the procession for purposes of securing the right of way. All operators shall use reasonable care and all must yield to emergency vehicles and law enforcement.
Surprisingly, operators of the vehicles driving in the opposite direction do not have to pull over, although they may. Operators driving in the same direction may pass when there are two or more lanes. They may not drive between vehicles in a procession unless directed by law enforcement and they may not enter an intersection knowing a funeral procession is proceeding, but again, they are permitted to pass the procession in a second lane.
Finally, it is not negligence per se when causing a wreck while violating this law. This means an injured party must prove the negligence beyond violating this law to recover.
Now the safe practice and certainly the most courteous practice is to pull over and not pass. Most drivers do this, but as my father once told me, there is no law against being stupid and rude.
I can remember when my father’s best friend and a close mentor to me, Colonel Karl Wombrod, died. The Colonel played football for Tennessee and was badly wounded at the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. He was also on the team that surveyed the 38th parallel in Korea. He was/is an incredible man. After delivering his eulogy during his funeral in Southern Pines, I was with the family as we drove to the Veterans Cemetery in Fayetteville.
It was spring of that year, and farmers were busy plowing and preparing to plant. Despite them being on large machines and very busy, I was overwhelmed and touched with emotion to see each farmer take the time to come down from their equipment and stop what they were doing to remove their hats and pay their respects. Not only do they feed us, they teach us.
It costs us nothing but a few minutes of our day to be courteous and respectful. Unfortunately, no law can make us do so. Like so much in life, it’s our choice.