The traditional etiquette of a funeral in the UK has become ingrained in our society over many years and whilst some people prefer to have a more relaxed attitude to things like the hierarchy of who should travel in what car to follow the hearse, others prefer to keep to tradition.
However you decide to arrange travel for family and friends to the funeral of a loved one, it is important to remember that these traditions are offered as a guidance only and that it is perfectly acceptable to break from these in a way that suits you and your family.
In this guide, we discuss the etiquette of funeral cars and address the accepted order of who travels in which car. We also look at the types of funeral cars and processions that are commonly used here in the UK as well other things to consider when organising a funeral car.
Funeral Procession Etiquette
A funeral procession (or cortege) is the name given to the manner in which the coffin of the deceased is transported on the day of their funeral. It usually takes place from the premises of the funeral director and finishes when the deceased’s coffin has been taken to its final resting place; either a cemetery for burial or a crematorium.
Some funeral processions may take place in two stages with a funeral service being held at a chapel, church or other religious location. In Judaism, for example, it is traditional to stop seven times along the route, often at meaningful places, to offer prayers.
The etiquette of a funeral procession in the UK can vary depending on the religious beliefs of the deceased and/or their family. It may also be affected by the distance the procession needs to cover between locations and how populated the areas being passed are.
Traditionally, the hearse is initially preceded at a walking pace by the funeral director (or a member of their staff). This is performed as a mark of respect for the deceased and also allows the cars taking part in the procession to join the cortege.
After a short distance, the funeral director will rejoin the hearse and the procession of vehicles then travel to the church, cemetery or crematorium at a steady driving pace.
Most funeral directors will take care of the arrangements for you when it comes to organising a funeral procession.
Funeral Processions and the Law
Funeral processions do not have any special right of way in law and other road users are merely reminded of the accepted etiquette with regard to a cortege, namely:
- Giving the (whole) funeral procession the right of way.
- Not ‘cutting’ in to the funeral procession.
- Turning the volume down on car stereos.
- Being patient.
There are some conditions when a funeral procession is given some special considerations and this is generally if they are under police control. Elaborate and large processions, particularly in busy areas, may be given a police escort which can help it pass junctions, roundabouts and traffic lights. A police escort may also be given to slow moving processions such as those that include a horse-drawn hearse.
Who Goes in What Car?
Traditional etiquette dictates that only the closest relatives of the deceased should travel in the first car following the hearse.
By close relatives, this usually means any (or all) of the following:
The second car to follow in the funeral processions is generally given over to the remaining family members and/or close friends.
It is common for grandchildren of the deceased to also ride in the first car if their parents are travelling in this manner.
The number and configuration of people riding in each of the cars is restricted by the number of seats available. Many funeral directors use two limousines to accommodate close family and friends, each of which holding between five and seven people. This will vary by funeral director with some offering more standard cars that can seat only three to four people.
How Should Mourners Get to the Funeral?
Depending on your budget, additional funeral cars can be laid on to chauffeur other mourners to the funeral in the main procession. However, it is not expected that the family meet this expense and it is usual practice for mourners to drive themselves or arrange their own transport to the funeral.
You can arrange for mourners to follow the hearse, behind the first and second funeral car to form a full procession. If you are thinking of doing this then the funeral director may provide magnetic signs which can be attached to the bonnet or rear of a car which signifies that they are a part of the procession. The last car in the cortege should also be given a special sign or flag to indicate this.
This is a useful thing to bear in mind as it helps other road users know when a procession has fully passed and indicates to those following that you are a part of the (potentially) slow-moving traffic ahead.
You can speak to the funeral director about the best way to organise this as traffic management to accommodate a longer procession is often required depending on the location of where this procession starts and finishes.
Can I Travel With the Coffin?
The hearse is only fitted with two seats in the front; one for the driver and one for the funeral director. It is therefore not usually possible for family members to travel with the coffin.
However, it can sometimes be possible for you to chauffeur the coffin yourself and to drive the hearse. Not all funeral directors will allow this and it is a rare thing to request.
Some people are keen to do this with their loved one and it can be a very personal and tender final journey. However, it is exactly because of the heightened emotional state that relatives may find themselves in that most funeral directors do not allow this.
If you are considering driving the hearse yourself then you will need to discuss this with the funeral director. You will also need to pay for insurance and hold a valid driving license to do this.