2012-06-03

Attending a Funeral - Driving in cortege

    I that i tend to get questions following my posts on how to attend funerals.  People appear nervous, unsure and generally hesitant.  Who can blame them, funerals are a tense thing to the inexperienced and many of us are inexperienced with them.  Thus I thought a few posts detailing the mist important or tricky parts of the funeral could help.  Starting with one of the most difficult and stressful parts for many mourners, driving in cortege.

    Driving in cortege is the act of following a hearse (or any other lead car).  You will be driving quickly and closely behind a hearse or other cars.  This makes it tricky and worrying.  Yet this was my favourite part of working funerals.  It can be quite easy and simple as long as you think ahead and apply some common sense.

    This post is for mourners, however I will write another post about hot to drive in cortege as a funeral director.  This is because driving as a mourner and as an undertaker are very different.  Comparing both posts might be interesting or helpful.  I do go over driving a funeral car in this post here.  But I want another new posts focusing on driving in cortege.

Anyway, here is how to drive in a cortege from a mourners perspective:

    Change your views.  The first thing is do not see yourself as a car.  In the cortege you are not a single or individual entry but something linked to others.  A good way to undertand this is to think of yourself as a train carriage.  Your actions and movements are influenced by others, and influence others.  So do not drive by yourself, copy the car in front and move as they move.

Me following the hearse to a 'direct' at
the crematorium. 
    Keep up.  This is one of the most important parts.  You need to keep up with the car in front, it is vital!  You do not set the pace, the lead car (or hearse) does.  There might be a very good reason why the lead car is speeding up or slowing down.  If you fall back then you might miss the lights, or make others miss the lights.  Falling back or trying to set the speed yourself will annoy the funeral staff and make the whole thing more difficult and dangerous.  Every time there is a large gap in the cortege there is a chance a car will jump in and cut people off dangerously.

    Keep close.  Many would say you need a 3 second gap between cars to remain safe.  In a funeral cortege you want a 1 or 2 second gap at most.  You will want to just see the tires of the car in front.  I cannot stress this enough.  The funeral industry drives closer than others, look at a wedding party and you will see massive gaps between the cars.  On the other hand there should only be a meter or so between funeral cars.  There is a very good reason for the closeness, so stay close or you will get lost.  Having said this not everyone is able to drive close behind other cars, keeping a safe distance is essential.  You might have to drive uncomfortably close, but should never drive unsafely close.

    Be ready for 'jumpers'.  A 'jumper' is someone who jumps into the cortege, who cuts off the cars.  This is often quite dangerous; I have seen cars speed down the left lane and jump into the cortege suddenly.  Which then made everyone come to a quick and hard stop, not something you want to do at 80km/h with about one meter between cars.  Watch your wing mirrors for 'jumpers' and be ready for them.

    Know the way.  Just because you are in a cortege does not mean you will not be separated.  Other cars will try and cut you off, if the cortege is long then you might get lost at lights.  There are a huge number of reasons why you could get separated from the other cars.  So know the way and you will not get lost.  If unsure talk with the funeral staff (preferably the hearse driver) before setting off.

    Smooth and steady.  When following another car you will need to act more quickly and with more force than they did.  Basically when they accelerate you need to accelerate a little harder and faster than they did.  When they break you break harder and quicker.  This is because there is a delay in actions, they act before you but you need to act in the same time, the same distance.  This effect grows with each car.  In other words the fourth car back will be working four times as hard, but the second car will only work twice as hard.  To make this easier on everyone drive smoothly and steadily.  Do not slam the breaks, do not floor it and accelerate quickly.  Make it easier on those behind you and they are more likely to keep up.

    Warn earlier.  Following this you will need to act earlier than when driving alone.  Indicate much sooner than you would normally, or as soon as the car in front dose.  This will let those behind you know what is happening.  There is nothing worse than seeing the cortege change lanes on a freeway and being blocked by others cars.  Next thing you miss the exit.  So you must indicate, and must do so earlier than normal.  This is the same for breaking or other actions.  Communicate what is going on to those around and behind you.

    Speeding.  A funeral cortege should never speed.  In fact the cortege should drive under the speed limit to show respect and to remain safe.  The rule of thumb is that a cortege will drive slowly, but not too slowly depending on the situation.  For example they might travel 10km/h under the limit on a freeway, moving at about 70km/h.  Yet then drive the exact speed limit on a main road and travel at 80km/h.  So a cortege should travel slowly, depending on the situation.  However this will not always happen.  Sometimes it can be dangerous or inappropriate to drive slowly.  Merging lanes is easier at high speeds and so the cortege might go over the speed limit to make this easier.  If the cortege speeds up just follow along, the police will not book a cortege and there might be a very good reason for speeding.

    Do not panic.  Doing something unsafe or silly to keep up with the cortege is inexcusable.  Unfortunately you might get cut off, I will explain what to do in this situation below.  But if there is no reason to cause an accident just to try and keep up.  I once saw a car change lanes suddenly, nearly side-swiping another car just to keep up.  They could have let the car past then changed lanes, but they paniked.  I have also seen cars run red lights to keep up, which is incredibly stupid.  Do not panic, do not worry, and do what I say below.

    Separation and cut off.  If you are cut off the cortege will slow down.  They will come to a crawl and stay in whatever lane you lost them.  This allows traffic to pass them and for you to catch up.  Sometimes a car (or worse a truck) will drive behind the cortege rather than go around.  They are trying to be respectful but really making it hard for lost cars to find the cortege again.  In any case, if separated do not panic and keep going.

    Lights on.  Following my previous advice you should always have your lights on when following a cortege.  This lets the funeral staff know who is part of the group and if anyone gets separated.

    No high beams or hazards.  Do not use these.  Never use the high beam or hazard lights in a cortege unless it is an emergency.  Would you want to drive with someone's bright lights in your mirror?  High beams annoy and blind those around you.  Hazards confuse others and can make it difficult to tell when people are indicating.  If you have your hazards on then other cars will not know when you indicate to merge.  There is no reason for high beam or hazard lights and it will only get in the way.

    Water.  If the cortege is going to be a long drive be ready.  Bring a bottle or two of water and drink it.  The air-conditioning in cars is actually very dehydrating, you can be low on water without feeling thirsty. Symptoms include; headaches, tiredness, sore eyes, dry skin, etc.  Prevent headaches and other annoyances by drinking.

    Food.  If the cortege is going to be a long drive be ready.  To keep your energy up and make the whole experience nicer bring food.  Chocolates or lollies are ok but not the best idea as they can make people car sick (especially kids) and do not last well.  Biscuits or breads are a very good option.  They sit well with people (can help reduce car sickness) and last a long time.  Carrot sticks and other things sit well but do not last as long.

    As always if there are any questions or concerns do not hesitate to ask.  I created this blog to as a place to keep and publicise my thoughts about the industry, in a hope to help.

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    Some places have laws about lights for the cortege.  For example certain states in America require the hearse to have flashing lights on the roof.  Other states in America require the use of hazard lights.  However in Australia there are so few regulations, and in N.S.W there are no requirements or regulations for lights on a cortege.  So look up the rules or copy others, as the advice here might not be correct for your location.

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