A tragic New York car accident took the life of a motorcyclist in Brooklyn recently. According to news reports, an SUV driver was traveling south and stopped for a funeral procession that was traveling east. The driver moved forward after all of the vehicles in the procession had passed, but he reportedly had a red light by that time. The motorcyclist, who reportedly had the green light, crashed into the SUV.
It is customary in many parts of the United States for drivers to yield to funeral processions. Indeed, in some states, there are laws granting funeral processions the right of way. Unfortunately, despite several bills being introduced over the past few years, New York has not passed a statewide law addressing funeral processions. Since there is a custom but no law, many drivers are left confused about what their responsibilities are.
There are no exceptions in New York traffic law allowing funeral processions to disobey traffic signals. Municipalities may, however, enact their own ordinances addressing this issue. Even with a municipal ordinance in place, liability in the event of an accident is not clear. A case from 1948 held that a driver could proceed on a green light, regardless of whether a funeral procession was passing, if there was no traffic officer regulating traffic, and the driver could proceed without unreasonably endangering another person. The court made this finding despite a municipal ordinance granting the right of way to a funeral procession.