2012-06-16

Working Funerals - Driving in cortege WNBull style

The car I was assigned, WNB004
or 'Kevin' as I called him.
    It's been a while since I posted, I've just been too busy and too distracted to write.  But it's about time I got back into it, and what better way than writing about my favourite part of the funeral!  Driving in cortege.

    A while ago I wrote a post about how to drive in cortege from a mourners perspective.  This is my promised follow up from an undertakers perspective

    Driving as staff is very different to driving as a mourner.  You will have to look after people, often strangers and will be expected to behave very differently.  Driving in cortege is one of the more difficult parts to the job.  A family car driver has to sit very close to the hearse or car in front, often so close they could not stop in time if the others did.  But there was something fun about it.  And seeing 4 or 5 cars all following a hearse so closely and in perfect unison was an impressive sight.  So to be part of it was always impressive.  Overall driving in cortege, while difficult, was my favourite part of the funeral.  A time when I could talk with those in my car and a thing I really enjoyed to do.

    When people outside the industry think of an undertaker they think of death, bodies, funerals and so on.  Yet when I think of an undertaker I think of a car driver who works on funerals.  Here is my guide to help those embarking on this job.  Or for those curious about the role of an undertaker and what the job involves
My car Kevin resting in the sun.
    Know the way.  This here is the most important thing!!  As a driver if you spend time researching the directions then the car behind you just says "oh, i'll just follow you" it does not make you happy.  It makes them look lazy and you are technically doing their job.  If you get separated and they get lost they will blame you.  If you are simply following and do not know the way you are much more likely to panic and do something stupid and/or dangerous to keep up.  Knowing the way, or at least one way, will make you more comfortable, look professional and keep your co-workers happy.  Of course, things change and you might need to go an unknown or unexpected way suddenly.  But that is life, and some quick research never hurts.

Me following another family car;
we would drive at this distance.
    Keep close.  This is the thing that separates a funeral cortege from other corteges.  I have noticed how big a gap other cars, such as wedding cars, will leave between each other.  This is not done on a funeral.  As someone once said you will have to drive so close that if the car in front went off a cliff you would to.  I have driven behind the hearse at 60 km/h or faster and not been able to see its tires.  This is perhaps one of the harder parts of following a funeral cortege.  They all stick so close that there is little to no stopping room and you will be expected to drive like this.

    Predictive driving.  As you will be traveling so close and have such little stopping room you will need to be able to predict the actions and behaviour of car in front.  Every driver drives differently, so working with the same people regularly is a great way to learn to predict them and their driving.  Some drivers will pull up to lights faster, others corner differently.  In time you learn what little signs mean, such if the hearse wobbles a bit to the side it may mean they are trying to get a view of the cortege and about to slow down because someone got separated.

    Smooth driving.  The big issue in a cortege is the way people drive and the build up of forces.  Everything the first car does is doubled for the second car, then tripped for the third car and so on.  This means if the first car has to break hard the second car has to break harder, and the third car has to break even harder than that.  Or if the first car accelerates then the second car has to accelerate harder and so on.  Basically the further back a car in the cortege the harder and more suddenly they have to drive.  So try to drive smoothly to be mindful of those behind you.

    Keep awake.  This is the hardest part of driving in cortege.  Following the hearse is not easy, but is definitely less of a mental activity than driving by yourself.  You are not thinking about things like the lights, about the direction, about the traffic.  You are only concerned with the big black blob floating ever so peacefully in front of you.  It actually affects your brain and makes you sleepy.  So talk with others in the car, watch the mirrors and stay mentally active!  Otherwise you might have run off the road (it has happened) or run into the back of the hearse (it has happened).

    Adaptive driving.  Many people do not do this, and are against it.  But in an automatice I drive with my left foot on the break.  Having your foot on the break and ready will reduce your stopping distance by only a meter or so in many situations.  But that short distance saved me going up the back of a hearse once or twice.  There is no point to having the left foot sit uselessly in an automatic car, so put it to use and reduce the stopping distance!  In a manual I would advise learning the 'heel-toe technique' (it's actually quite easy and effective).

    In line like a train.  The big thing at WNBull was that the cortege moved like a train.  Each car followed the one in front perfectly.  And it looked amazing.  Being at the back of a 4 car cortege was a very impressive sight.  This involves all the cars following the hearse as it moves.  They change lanes in line, none change before or after it.  They go around corners in line, none cut or swing on the corner.  And so on, it is easy to do, simply place yourself behind the driver of the car in front and follow them like that.  It is also very practical as it if they can fit through a tight gap you know for sure you will fit.

    Keep up.  This is similar to 'keep close' but it involves not dragging behind.  Basically the lead car/hearse will hate it if you try to set the pace.  They are driving at a certain speed for a reason.  They might be going fast to get ahead of a truck and merge, or slow to not get to the cemetery too early.  There are a number of reasons why the cortege is going a certain speed, as a family car driver you do not know these reason.  Nor should you as your job is to keep up and follow them.

    Do not break the law.  Running read lights, stops signs, cutting people off and so on is never excused.  There are exceptions, but they are extremely rare and still technically illegal.  Really, there is no excuse for breaking the law.  Any decent family car driver knows what to do if they get separated (which I discuss below) plus they should know the way.  One driver with the company use to run red lights to keep up with the cortege.  Let's just say it did not impress the other staff.

    Do not panic or do something stupid.  As with breaking the law there is no excuse for doing something inappropriate to keep up.  I saw a funeral car cut off other cars, nearly hitting them, simply to keep up.  This certain staff member would block and cut off cars as they tried to eneter a freeway.  Again, it did not impress the other staff.  Sometimes you just have to let cars into the cortege, and most often they will move once they realise.

WNB004 or Kevin in a car park.
   Let yourself get separated.  Many conductors would disagree with this.  The job is to keep up and keep together.  But sometimes the hearse will make it through lights, then they change suddenly.  Sure you could get through but on certain occasions you simply should not!  The mourners in the cortege do no know what to do or where to go and they are in an emotional state.  Then suddenly the funeral cars are separated, gone and out of sight.  They will panic and do silly things to catch up, or might get lost.  But if you as a funeral car get separated with them they will be much happier.  Plus you should know the way and what to do, so you can lead them back to the hearse.  Yes, it is the hearse driver's job to keep the cortege together, but in rare situations like that you can and should lead them to the hearse.

    Separation.  If separated do not worry.  The good and nice hearse drivers will slow down, drive so slowly that everyone goes around them.  That way you have time to catch up.  Sometimes a car, truck or bus will get and stick behind the hearse and unfortunately block your view of it.  So look for the incredibly slow cars and then push your way back in behind it.  You should not drive dangerously or stupidly, but you will need to be pushy and rude.

    Block traffic.  This is primarily the hearse drivers job.  At certain intersections or places such as round abouts the hearse will slow down or stop.  They do this to bring the other cars to a stop, even though these cars would normally have the right of way.  Once stopped these cars tend to let the cortege through.  However sometimes after the hearse is gone they might start to role.  So you should sometimes also slow down or pause ever so slightly, just to reinforce the message.  Basically use your car to blockade the intersection.  Here the law is on your side, it is incredibly illegal to cut off a cortege, but it can and does happen.  Do not try and block people only to have an accident, use common sense.

    Indicate.  A very important, and overlooked aspect of the cortege is the indicator.  A cortege needs to indicate sooner and longer than other cars to warn those around the cortege as much as those in it.  Nothing is worse than following behind a car that does not indicate.  Because next thing you know the whole cortege is in the next lane and there is a car blocking you.  Indicate!!

    Be pushy.  For whatever reason if you are separated from the cortege, or they change lanes and you cannot get in you will need to push.  Indicate then slowly move across, push the other cars out of the way.  You should never drive dangerously or stupidly though.  Just confidently and dominantly.

The new WNBull hearse.
    Food and drinks.  As a family car driver you will have others in the car, who you have to look after.  Having fresh water ready at all times is a must as people get thirsty when on a long drive.  WNBull and many companies are strongly against having food, but sometimes a mint or two is nice for people.  Either way, whatever you put in the car should not make a mess and be easy to eat.

    Air-conditioning.  It should always be on, you never ever open a window in the car unless those you are driving directly ask for it.  Otherwise the air-conditioning should be on and set to a nice temperature they like and know they can change.  Air-conditioning in cars is very dehydrating (it can cause headaches, tiredness and so on).  Have water and encourage them to drink it.

    Conversation.  You will need to be able to know when and if people want to talk.  Most will want to chat, and almost everyone loves to talk about themselves.  Ask what they do for a living, where they went to school and so on.  Personal yet not private questions like this are great and sometimes they will not want to talk about the deceased or funerals.  However if they bring it up go with it.  I found nobody had issue with knowing about the funeral industry, in fact they really appreciated it and it was a very common topic.  It is rare that people get to meet and chat with an undertaker, so they enjoy the insight.  And contrary to popular belief people rarely find the topic taboo or unsettling.

    Police cortege.  The police cortege is different to any other cortege.  You will speed, you will fly and you will be right up the back of the car in front.  I remember one police cortege, we had two police cars leading us along.  We went about 80km/h the whole way, through red lights, 50 zones, everything and anything.  And I was driving about 1 meter from the hearse in front.  With a police cortege just keep up, keep close and keep going.

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1 comment:

  1. Yup. A correctly driven, schmick, shithot cortege should be driven tight; like a fish's backside!! Nothing more impressive on the road than a team of cortege drivers in perfect, identical cortege drill. Starting from getting into the vehicles simultaneously. Watching their dressing (Dressing = you place in relation to others *a military term*) and pulling away from kerbside in perfect synchronicity. Just stunning. It is so easy to turn a cortege into a trainsmash dog's breakfast with sloppy lane changes, inattention and poor dressing/drill. This and the hearse are two subjects most dear to my heart in my work! :)

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