The Law of Funeral Processions and Bicyclists

A group of us were out riding in the West Hills when we approached a stop sign. To our left was an oncoming funeral procession led by three uniformed motorcycle riders with flashing lights. The procession consisted of a line of cars with headlights on that was turning right onto the street we leaving. As we approached the stop sign, the lead motorcyclist waved his hand at us in a chopping motion and shouted something like “Oncoming Procession!”

There were about twenty of us and we were already slowing down for the stop sign at the corner. We came to a stop and then turned left at the intersection, riding toward and alongside the funeral procession proceeding in the opposite lane as it slowly approached and snaked around the same corner we were now leaving behind us. As we passed by the procession we were not sure why the lead motorcycle rider was upset with us… Had we done something illegal or disrespectful? At the next regroup several of us talked and I agreed to research the traffic laws and rules about funeral processions and bicycles, and then write about it.

A funeral procession is defined as “two or more vehicles, including any Funeral Lead Vehicle or Funeral Escort Vehicle, accompanying the body or cremated remains of a deceased person.” ORS 801.288(3). A Funeral Lead Vehicle can be any vehicle (including a bicycle since a bicycle is a vehicle) equipped with either red or red and white lights. ORS 811.800 and ORS 816.285. A Funeral Escort Vehicle is a two-wheel or three-wheel vehicle that is equipped with red and white lights. ORS 811.288(2). In this case, the motorcycles were the Funeral Escort Vehicles and were essentially acting as the blockers or sweepers to keep the procession moving along as intended.

A funeral procession is given many unique rights by statute over other drivers on the road. For example, funeral processions are allowed to essentially take over an intersection if the Funeral Escort Vehicle or Funeral Lead Vehicle lawfully enters an intersection, and the following procession may then enter the intersection without stopping. ORS 811.804(1).

The statute requires that a person must yield the right of way to a funeral procession and stop before entering any intersection occupied by the procession, then remain stopped until the procession has passed. And the law requires that we obey any direction given by a driver of a Funeral Escort Vehicle. ORS 811.802(1). The statute specifically applies to pedestrians and bicyclists as well as “motor vehicle drivers and anyone else in the path of the procession.” ORS 811.802(2). Violation of the law is a Class D traffic violation. ORS 811.802(4). If a person drives between vehicles in a procession, or joins the procession in order to exempt themselves from the rules of the road, it is also a Class D traffic violation. ORS 811.810.

Since we did not interfere in any way with the passage of the procession in the intersection there was no legal reason to “remain stopped until the funeral procession has passed.” However, all persons are required to stop and remain stopped from all directions when the procession is in the intersection. But since we turned left at the stop sign and the procession was turning right to go in the direction where we had been riding, we did not slow the procession down or hinder its progress in any way. So I don’t think we violated any law. I am not sure why the lead motorcycle rider was waving angrily at us, as we were slowing to approach the stop sign anyway. Maybe he was just grumpy that day.

The etiquette for riders encountering a funeral procession is a little less clear. We frequently encounter these processions on training rides in Portland’s West Hills because there are several graveyards along Skyline Blvd. Ideas for how best to respond to a funeral procession vary. Suggestions range from doing nothing (besides merely following the law), to stopping in respect while the procession goes by.

One commentor recalled that as a youth he rode in the funeral home’s Cadillac from the funeral to his grandmother’s graveside service. His mother pointed out a group of people who had stopped beside the road, removed their hats and stood silently as the procession rolled by. This image of kindness and respect for the procession carrying his grandmother to her grave stayed with him his whole life.

At the other end of the spectrum there are other experiences, like the two women who were out riding together one day. A funeral procession approached and the lead rider pulled over, took off her helmet and stood silently by the side of the road. Her companion said, “Gee Sheila I didn’t know you were so observant of these things.” Sheila replied, “Well normally I’m not but we were married for 34 years.” Oh well.

So, at the very least the law requires that as riders we must stop and remain stopped to allow funeral processions to proceed through an intersection without impeding its progress. We can do more if we wish based on our individual views of what’s appropriate. Since not everyone stops when a procession drives by it is best for riders who intend to pull over to do so well off the traveled portion of the roadway just to be sure an errant driver does not run into us.