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How to ride near a funeral procession (without breaking the law)

Posted by on March 28th, 2012 at 8:42 am

“We frequently encounter these processions on training rides in Portland’s West Hills. Suggestions range from doing nothing (besides merely following the law), to stopping in respect while the procession goes by.”
— Ray Thomas, lawyer

For whatever reason, some of the most popular roads for bicycling on here in the Portland region also tend to be near graveyards. There’s Riverview Cemetery just west of the Sellwood Bridge and Skyline Memorial Gardens up in the West Hills just to name a few.

Ray Thomas, a local lawyer who rides frequently in these areas, recently had a situation where a group he was riding with happened upon a funeral procession. The experience left him wondering how Oregon law handles the presence of bicycles on the road when a funeral procession rolls by. So, as Thomas often does, he did a bit of research and wrote an article about it. He shared the article with me yesterday.

Here’s how he sets up the scenario:

A group of us were out riding in the West Hills when we approached a stop sign. To our left was an oncoming funeral procession led by three uniformed motorcycle riders with flashing lights. The procession consisted of a line of cars with headlights on that was turning right onto the street we leaving. As we approached the stop sign, the lead motorcyclist waved his hand at us in a chopping motion and shouted something like “Oncoming Procession!”

According to Thomas, “A funeral procession is given many unique rights by statute over other drivers on the road.” For example, he says, processions can take over an entire intersection, “if the Funeral Escort Vehicle or Funeral Lead Vehicle lawfully enters an intersection, and the following procession may then enter the intersection without stopping. ORS 811.804(1).”

That statute also requires a road users to yield the right of way — stop and remain stopped — when the procession is in the intersection. In addition, you are required to obey the directions given by the driver of an official funeral escort vehicle.

The way Thomas sees it, if the procession is on the opposite side of the street, and you can continue on your bicycle in the opposite lane, without impeding the procession in any way, you are not breaking the law.

As with many laws, there is the legally prescribed solution and then there is etiquette and personal conduct. In this case, both are important to keep in mind. “We frequently encounter these processions on training rides in Portland’s West Hills,” writes Thomas, “Suggestions range from doing nothing (besides merely following the law), to stopping in respect while the procession goes by.”

Have you ever ridden by a funeral procession? Share your experiences below.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Lothar March 28, 2012 at 9:36 am

    The Riverview Cemetery is not a road. I believe it’s private?

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  • John Russell (jr98664) March 28, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    I remember a few years ago (2009?) cycling down Vancouver near Legacy Emanuel in the pouring rain in a hurry to get to downtown. I remember having to wait for a few minutes as the funeral procession turned in front of me onto Cook towards the Fremont bridge.

    I wouldn’t have minded so much if it weren’t pouring and I hadn’t been in a hurry, but oh well. Such is life.

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  • o/o March 28, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    I have not encountered it yet. But thank for the tip what to do about it.

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  • Nick V March 28, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    I’ve been part of a funeral procession and I’ve come across one on my bike. Best to yield and give them all the room they need. Karma, as they say, can be a…….

    And I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve come into direct contact with one on my bike.

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  • Eric March 28, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    I ride on Skyline frequently and have encountered a number of processions. It’s a chance to pay your respects:

    Pull over safely to the side of the road. Remove your helmet. Hold your helmet over your heart and face the procession. When the last of the procession passes, get on your bike and ride on. Old fashioned, I know…

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    • Lazy Spinner March 28, 2012 at 3:01 pm

      Quite honestly, not just respectful but also a wonderful way to promote a very positive image of cyclists. I believe that display would really stick in the hearts and minds of those that witness it. Good on you, Eric!

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    • cara March 28, 2012 at 5:15 pm

      Perfect. Rain, hail, running late – that is exactly what people should do. You standing there respectfully might be the most vivid image someone riding in the procession remembers from their awful day.

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  • Seth Alford March 28, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    Would the Ride of Silence be considered a funeral procession?

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    • John Lascurettes March 28, 2012 at 4:14 pm

      Not without a police escort and a casket I don’t think it would.

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  • Jeff March 28, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    An interesting question is how a funeral procession made up mostly or solely of bicycles might fare under the Oregon rules? Same rights and responsibilities?

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    • Doug Smart March 28, 2012 at 3:08 pm

      I was just thinking of posting something like this myself. Bikes are vehicles. Same rules should apply. If there was no hearse in the lead, it might be difficult for people to recognize the nature of the procession, but to go totally bikey – perhaps according to the wishes of the guest of honor – a casket could be borne on an open flatbed trailer like the one for hunting shown on this site a while back, or one like the mattress delivery guys use.

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  • Johan Broad March 28, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    You stop and let the Funeral Procession pass.

    It’s simple respect, Just like you take your shoes off if you enter a mosque, put on a yarmulke in a temple, take your hat off in a church, and keep your hands off of the statues in a Buddhist sanctuary.

    The two or three minutes you ‘lose’ will be made up by your next stoplight.

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  • Mark Allyn March 28, 2012 at 9:08 pm

    This story bring back to mind a childhood nightmare experiance that I had that I sometimes cannot get away from.

    It was my grandfather’s funeral back in Winchester, Massachusetts.

    I was in the car immediately behind the hearse (he was my mother’s father).

    We all had our lights on and were in a solid line (no other traffic intermingled with us.

    The hearse, which was the lead car (there was no police escort) proceeded through the intersection.

    Just as we followed, a car sped through the intersection. My father, who was driving the vehicle we were all in, had to jam the brakes. Fortunately, no one hit anyone and we then went on through to the cemetery.

    Talking about it later, we figured the guy was in a hurry and just wanted to cut the line to get through. We all did agree that he was very rude.

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  • Schrauf March 28, 2012 at 9:15 pm

    Weird. I guess I have never come across a funeral procession in the opposite lane coming towards me and had think about what to do, but if I were in a car, I would not pull over and stop. Is that what everyone here does? If not, why do it on a bike – because it is easier to pull over and stop? Because you are more visible and the show of respect or lack of respect is more apparent?

    I’m not talking about when blocking or waiting for a procession, of course. I’m only talking about an oncoming procession.

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  • Jeremy Cohen March 29, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    My understanding of the *point* of the funeral procession is that it is a way to ensure that all members of the grieving party would leave the funeral home together, then arrive at the cemetery together–in order to provide some continuity to the ceremony that happens first at the funeral home, then the cemetery. The long string of cars also ensures nobody misses a turn, gets lost, or has to worry about missing the cemetery part. If I was riding (or driving) opposite a funeral procession I would probably NOT pull over, stop, or do anything else. The only thing I would not do is CUT the line somehow–

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  • mary lou March 30, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    I bicycled in the Portland area before it was “the ” thing to do (1973.) As a New Yorker out of my element I remember vividly the motorcycles that led the funeral processions. I was impressed by the solemnness and respect evoked by the advance motorcyclists. I stopped as a way to honor the families who were in these processions. We don’t have motorcycles do this where I live but because of my Portland experience I stop for all funeral processions no matter where I am.

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  • Tamara Driscoll March 30, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    my grandfather past away about 2 weeks ago and i was in the lead car after the hearse..and there was motorcycles that turned their bike off as a sign of respect to the are supposed to stop and show respect even if your the oncoming traffic(atleast thats how we do it in Canada)..until the whole procession has went thru and then u continue on with your day..i call it good karma when you do stop no matter what or how much in a rush you are.

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