2012-07-30

Funeral Cortege Laws & Rights in NSW

    There are a lot of misconceptions about the funeral cortege, what it can do.  A while ago I wrote this post about how to drive in the funeral cortege as a mourner and this one as an undertaker.  But I did not really cover laws or rights.  I often got asked questions about the laws involving the funeral cortege and funeral cars.  So here is a post where I finally explain them!


    First thing we need to do is define and discuss "the funeral car".  Basically the funeral car is just a car driving on a funeral.  The mourning cars (which carry family and friends about on the funeral) are not special.  They are just legally work cars.  This means that they can not drive in the bus lanes, they have no extra rights compared to any other company car.  A lot of people think the mourning cars are classed hire cars, but they are not.  If it does not have an HC on the numberplate it is not a hire car.  Also HC cars need a special license to be driven, most undertakers only have a regular license.

    The next funeral car would be the hearse, everyone should know what this is.  Again, many think this is a special car but it is not.  While it might have its own classification when being registered it is not special.  You do not need a special license to drive one, and the hearse does not have any extra rights compared to other cars.  It must obey the road rules like the mourning car.

    Now, here is where it gets a little more complex.  These two cars in and on their own are not special or different.  However when put together they form a "cortege" which does have special laws and rights.  The cortege is simply the act of the funeral procession driving to the final destination.  By following a designated car, be it the hearse or a lead car.

    As it clearly states on page 97 of the NSW RTA Road Users Handbook:
"When driving you must not negligently or wilfully interfere with, or interrupt, the free passage along the road of any funeral cortege or authorised procession. You must not interfere with any vehicle or person apparently forming part of thefuneral or procession.  It is an offence and you will be fined."

    Basically it is saying the cortege cannot be interrupted or interfered with by other cars.  If you as a regular driver cut into a cortege then you are breaking the law and liable for a fine.  This law covers all cars in the cortege, be they funeral company cars, hire cars or personal cars.  The current poliece commissionaire of NSW has a lot of respect for funerals.  So he has pushed to make the punishment quite mean.  I do not know what it is exactly, but it is a severe fine and possibly a loss of some points.

    There it is in a nutshell, the funeral cars do not have any special rights, but the funeral cortege does.  It is illegal to cut off, get into a funeral cortege or disrupt it in any way.


    Here it gets blurry again.  A funeral cortege cannot break the law, such as speeding, running lights, ignoring stop signs and so on.  There are times when other drivers might technically have right of way, but have to or should give way to the cortege.  Take this example: a cortege is going right at a round about and half the cortege has gone through the round about, you are on their right going straight.  Technically you have right of way, however to take the right of way would be to deliberately interfere with the cortege, thus they momentarily have right of way.


    The rights for the funeral cortege are blurry and difficult.  They are also impossible to enforce.  To enforce it would need a police officer to be present when it happens and then it would be difficult to prove.  This means that while the law is there, black and white, and the police are encouraged to enforce it, that it is never practiced.  I have never heard of someone being booked for breaking this law despite the fact that the funeral cortege gets cut off quite often.

    Now, this brings me to the final point, why people cut of the cortege.  Some have told me that in small towns the cortege never gets cut off, how in the country people just "have more respect".  Many think people cut off the cortege because they are rude or inconsiderate.  But this is rarely the case.  It is an assumption built on two mistakes. 


    The first mistake is how we often assume "others" are bad.  We often complain about other drivers while saying how good we are.  How common sense is not very common in most people but luckily we have it.  There are numerous examples, but basically we think that others are bad.


    The second mistake is in personalising it, yet not empathising it.  We take it personally when "they" cut "us" off.  Their cutting us off is so wrong and inconsiderate, they saw a funeral cortege and ignored it.  Yet we do not tend to think of it from their shoes, their perspective.  We do not think that perhaps they just saw slow cars, were in a hurry and next thing they knew they were in a cortege.  


    A perfect example of how these two mistakes come together is of a family I was driving.  We were entering the freeway, the hearse and 4 mourning cars.  As we drove down the ramp onto the freeway the 2 lanes had to merge into 1.  The cortege was in the right lane (as it should be) when a car came down the left lane.  Seeing the road end it jumped in between the first and second mourning car.  The family started yelling about how rude they were, how inconsiderate and disrespectful it was.  But really, what was the other car meant to do?  It was driving down the road, the lane was about to end and suddenly there was a line of 5 funeral cars.  It literally had three options: drive off the road, stop and then have to merge onto a freeway from a complete stop, or to merge into the cortege.  It merged into the cortege (as it should have) and then pulled out once the road opened up again.  The family in the car only saw it as someone being inconsiderate and cutting off a funeral cortege.  They did not attempt to see it from the other driver's perspective.


    This is why most people cut off the cortege, because they do not realise.  Very rarely does someone do it deliberately.  Most people do it, realise and then jump out of the way as soon as they can.  So next time you hear of a cortege being cut off do not think it is a sign of society.  Instead think of it as an honest and silly mistake.

An~~

5 comments:

  1. Brilliant and very useful info.... keep writing

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  3. I drive familys every other day and each day someone who is not part of the funeral breaks in between my car and the mourning in front or behind me I have even had cars come between the hearse and the mourning car and stay there so dont tell me the public donr know what they are doing.

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