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I've attended several funerals over the past few years. There are many customs and protocols associated with a funeral, but the most public has to be the automobile procession from the funeral home to the place of worship or cemetery.

Common sense dictates that drivers slow down and let the procession pass without cutting in line. Over the years, though, I've observed increasing rudeness on the road. There are motorists who, through either ignorance or bad manners, don't yield the right of way to funeral processions.

While it is a traffic violation in some states, it is not illegal in New York to cut into a funeral procession. You would think drivers would have the common courtesy to let the procession have the right of way. You would be wrong.

Many drivers appear oblivious to the procession, and often are blissfully unaware they have cut into the line. On the other hand, maybe these people know that they have cut in and simply don't care.

A good number of the folks participating in the funeral probably shouldn't be behind the wheel; they are upset or crying. Often they don't have the luxury of choice, so drive they must. The benefit of a procession is that the bereaved can slowly follow the car in front of them, not having to think about directions or worry about red lights and stop signs.

If a motorist not associated with the funeral cuts into the procession and stops for a traffic signal, that splits up the line of mourners heading to the deceased person's final resting place. There is the possibility that a driver in the funeral procession will crash into the line cutter, because of the unexpected stop for traffic signals.

There is also the possibility drivers in the procession are unfamiliar with the route being taken to the church or cemetery. If they are separated from the beginning of the procession, it's possible they will not be able to catch up and get to where they are going.

I urge drivers to be more aware of traffic flow. If you encounter a line of cars moving slowly down the highway with lights on and little flags on the roofs, don't assume it's a convoy of sports fans heading to a playoff game. Slow down, or pull over to let the procession pass if road conditions permit. If you're at a traffic signal, allow the procession the right of way until the last car passes.

While attending a funeral a few years ago, I witnessed a minor accident involving the car in front of mine. A vehicle in a cross street did not yield the right of way to the procession and crashed into the mourner's car. Fortunately, no one was injured, but it added anxiety to an already stressful day for the people attending the funeral.

Recently, I observed a vehicle cutting into a funeral procession two cars behind the hearse, which was being slowly led by the funeral director with a blinking light on top of his car. This line cutter was totally oblivious to his position, despite the fact that the driver in the car ahead, the son of the deceased, was gesturing angrily for the person to pull over.

I later learned that, in his grief, this young man was ready to stop and give the interloper a piece of his mind. Luckily his sister, who was riding with him, talked him out of it.

Yielding the right of way to a funeral procession is a way of showing a final act of respect to the deceased. Is our society in such a hurry that we can't take the time to honor the dead?

CHRISTINE SMYCZYNSKI is a freelance writer who writes for several local, regional and national publications.

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