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Who rides in the family car for a funeral?

The Unexpected Car Taking Queen Elizabeth To Her Funeral

Queen Elizabeth II

Last week, when the Queen of England Elizabeth II passed away at the age of 96, most thought that the hearse leading the procession through Scotland would be something quintessentially British, like a Bentley, Range Rover, Jaguar, or Rolls-Royce — marques which have featured multiple times in her own private collection. But the vehicle carrying the coffin though Scotland was from the other side of the English Channel. It’s a decidedly German vehicle, in fact, a Mercedes E-Class.


Wpa Pool/Getty Images

The Queen was known to be driven around in a fleet of Range Rovers and was quite fond of her bespoke pair of Bentley limousines. A German vehicle is not the first hearse most people would think of. Members of the Royal Family who passed away in previous years were carried to their final resting places by modified Jaguars and Land Rovers. Prince Philip, Elizabeth II’s late husband, was famously quoted as saying «Just stick me in the back of a Land Rover and drive me to Windsor.»

But the Mercedes E-Class carrying the Queen is no ordinary station wagon converted to carry a casket. It’s more local than the Mercedes badge on the grille suggests.

A Scottish Mercedes

Queen's hearse

The hearse carrying the Queen was custom built by Binz International, and supplied to William Purve Funeral Directors of Scotland, according to Fox News. The Edinburgh-based company has been outfitting hearses for decades, and was contracted by the Royal Family with the important task of supplying the Queen’s transportation.

It’s no secret the Queen loved Scotland, and it’s only fitting that an Edinburgh-built hearse would accompany her during her final ride through the Scottish countryside. Most William Purve hearses are painted silver, but the Queen’s is decked out in a somber black. It’s a muted livery for the solemnity of the occasion.

The Mercedes hearse carried the Queen through Scotland to St. Giles Cathedral, where after a period of laying in rest for people to pay their final respects, it will be flown to London for a large procession later this week (via Reuters). That will see the coffin borne on a gun carriage of The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster on Wednesday, September 14, 2022, it was announced, a fitting tribute to both the Queen and her long-reigning legacy.

The leadup to the Queen’s funeral is currently ongoing

Queen Elizabeth funeral service

The Queen’s funeral is due to take place on Monday, September 19, with the actual service set for Westminster Abbey at 11 a.m. GMT, which is around 6 a.m. ET. However, a monarch’s send-off is a long process, and various major events occur between the head of state’s death and the funeral service itself. The entire chain of events occurs during an official mourning period, where the nation pays its respects to its departed leader. Sports events have been postponed, TV schedules have changed, and tributes have taken place at gatherings across Britain (via BBC).

The Queen’s body spends time at a number of locations. At the time of writing, it is lying in state at Westminster Hall, where the public can file past and pay their respects. Some of the Queen’s more dedicated subjects have been waiting in line for days. Previously, the Queen’s coffin has spent time at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Scotland, and a night at the monarch’s main residence: Buckingham Palace in London.

Each step of the journey is broken up by processions; one took place down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, and another from Buckingham Palace to Westminster down London’s Mall. Senior members of the royal family, including the newly crowned King Charles III, have been at the heart of the proceedings, one of which saw the Queen’s four children perform a 10-minute vigil around her coffin in one of the country’s more recent traditions. It was first performed after the death of George V in 1936 (via Town and Country).

The Mercedes isn’t the only unique vehicle associated with the Queen

Queen Elizabeth II Bentley

It’s quite fitting that her final journey is taking place in a unique vehicle as Queen Elizabeth II was always fond of cars. She was also no ordinary motorist, as most of the laws of the United Kingdom don’t actually apply to its monarch. Despite being spotted behind the wheel fairly regularly, the Queen did not have a driver’s license, and there was no legal requirement forcing her to pass a driving test like everyone else had to. Speed limits were also not applicable to Her Majesty in many circumstances, and Elizabeth II was more or less free to tear down her nation’s streets at whatever velocity she desired, at least at least with a police escort (via Insider).

However, unlike her dearly departed husband who managed to roll the family Land Rover back in 2019, the queen seemed to be a fairly careful driver. That was probably for the best as she had access to the kind of vehicles no one wants to write off. The monarch actually owned the world’s second most expensive car at one point — a custom Bentley that served a similar purpose to the U.S. president’s limo. As well as being built to withstand bomb blasts and gas attacks, the queen’s custom Bentley also featured special doors that helped the elderly figurehead get in and out of the vehicle. The cabin was built for visibility and the vehicle’s reclining seats were upholstered in lambswool. The royal collection also included a classic Aston Martin DB6, a number of off-road vehicles, a Rolls-Royce, and curiously enough, a hybrid.

A guide to funeral procession etiquette and procedures

White flowers in a bouquet with candles in the background

Elaine Hinzey is a registered dietitian, writer, and fact-checker with nearly two decades of experience in educating clients and other healthcare professionals.

Table of contents

A funeral procession is a tradition that often takes place after a funeral or memorial service. The body is transported from the funeral home or place of worship to the burial or cremation site with friends and family following behind. In earlier times, the funeral procession would take place on foot, with male family members carrying the casket. Nowadays, the procession tends to take place in vehicles while the casket is carried in a hearse. However, it remains slow and somber in nature and is still an important part of honoring and saying goodbye to a loved one.

How does a funeral procession work?

The funeral procession is usually led by the funeral directors in a black sedan, followed by the hearse carrying the casket. Typically, close family members follow the hearse in limousines. Other friends and family then drive their cars behind to create the rest of the memorial procession.

The funeral directors place flags on the cars to show that they’re part of the procession. These flags usually display the word “funeral” and are placed on the front left-hand side of the car. There might be a flag on every vehicle in the procession, or if there are lots of cars, the funeral directors may place a flag on every other or every third vehicle. Drivers usually have their headlights on to further indicate that they’re part of the procession.

The final car in the procession has two flags to signal to other drivers that the procession has come to an end. They may also have their hazard lights on.

The memorial procession drives slowly from where the funeral took place to the cemetery or crematorium, where members of the procession say a final goodbye as their loved one is laid to rest.

Funeral procession etiquette for members of the procession

If you’re going to be part of a funeral procession, you might be unsure what to expect, especially if you’ve never been in one before. Below we’ve answered some common questions people have about being part of a funeral procession.

When should I arrive?

At the funeral or memorial venue, funeral directors will direct the cars into a row, bumper-to-bumper, to get them ready for the procession to start after the service. You should arrive around 30 minutes before the service to allow time for this to happen. Family members or close friends of the person who’s passed should be closer to the front of the procession. The cars are arranged in the order they arrive, so if you need to be near the front, arrive nice and early, for example, 45 minutes before the service.

How fast should I drive?

Funeral processions drive slowly as a sign of respect and to reflect how early, on-foot processions would’ve felt. The slow speed also enables the procession to stay together and is safer. You should drive no faster than 25-30 mph on side roads or 50 mph on the highway.

How close should I be to the vehicle in front?

You need to stay very close to the car in front while still maintaining a safe stopping distance. This is to make sure that other cars can’t cut in and break up the procession. Make sure you don’t let any other cars that aren’t part of the procession get in front of you. This still applies even if you reach a stop sign or red light — traffic laws allow vehicles in a funeral procession to keep on driving so as not to break up the procession.

Funeral procession etiquette for other drivers

If you encounter a memorial procession when driving, there is a certain etiquette you should follow.

Be respectful

People in the funeral procession are in mourning, so you should be respectful of their feelings and the solemn nature of the event. Don’t shout, toot your horn, or play loud music with the windows down near a funeral procession.

Don’t cut in

The vehicles in the funeral procession all need to stay together. Give way to the procession and wait until the final car has passed before you move on. The last car in the procession should have two flags on its hood and may have its hazard lights on.

Don’t pass the funeral procession

You shouldn’t try to overtake a funeral procession on a regular road, as this is disrespectful and can be unsafe. You can pass a memorial procession on the highway if there are two or more lanes, but only on the left side. It’s only acceptable to pass them on the right side if there are several lanes and the procession is traveling in the far left lane.

Funeral procession laws

Traffic laws give funeral processions the right of way and allow cars in the procession to go through red lights so as not to break up the procession. So, if you’re part of a procession and there’s a red light, you should still follow the car in front and continue driving. Other drivers should let the whole procession pass, even if they have a green light.

Note that the first car of the procession still needs to obey traffic laws and stop at red lights.

Planning a funeral procession

It might feel overwhelming to plan a funeral procession along with all the other elements of a funeral. However, your funeral director can help and support you, as they have lots of experience planning and leading funeral processions. If you’re not using a funeral director, then ask friends and family to create a plan for the procession. Perhaps there’s someone who’d be happy to take on the organization of that element.

If the funeral service itself is taking place at a funeral home, you might have some questions. Our blog post Funeral home etiquette and FAQs will let you know what to expect when visiting the funeral home and attending the service itself.

Choosing a Funeral Hearse

Stibbards & Sons

When a loved one passes away the coffin’s journey to the place of burial or cremation is made by what’s known as a hearse. It’s simply a way of transporting the coffin and will usually be the first vehicle in a funeral procession. You’ll commonly see motorised versions but a hearse can be any vehicle and it’s not unusual for relatives to think about the hobbies and passions of the deceased when choosing a funeral hearse.

What is a Hearse?

Modern hearses are the long sided, usually black, vehicles with glass windows to convey the coffin or casket.

The word itself comes from the word ‘herce’, which is anglo-french for ‘harrow’, an old farming tool. In the middle ages the wooden structure that supported the coffin at the funeral was known as the ‘herce’, reflecting its resemblance to the shape of the harrow farming tool.

It was in the 1600s that the use of horses to draw coffins, instead of people carrying them, became widespread. Today horse-drawn carriages are still used, although motorised hearses are the most widespread.

How Do you Choose a Funeral Hearse?

It’s perhaps worth noting that in the UK there’s no also legal requirement for a coffin or body to be carried by hearse. You can use a van or estate car, but it may feel less dignified bringing your late loved one to the funeral in the family estate car.

When it comes to which hearse, your loved one may have left instructions in their will about how they wished to be conveyed or their hobbies and interests might form part of a funeral or procession. But really the sky is the limit. Motorised hearses are the most common today.

Aside from the traditional black car some people decide on something a little more classic. Horse drawn carriages are elegant and are designed on the traditional Victorian or Edwardian versions. Many horse drawn hearses are more than 100 years old but can accommodate modern coffins and include rails for flowers.
Most often the horses come in pairs or fours, with a groom to drive them to the service who is kitted out in traditional dress.

New Orleans funerals traditionally have jazz processions, with live bands leading the mourners. And when he died in 1965, Winston Churchill’s funeral procession included a boat journey along the Thames and a 60-mile train journey from London to Oxfordshire.

You can hire buses, motorbike and sidecars or a 1920s style vehicle.

In 2016 Paul Nowicki, a 90-year-old man from Bristol, was transported to his funeral in the bucket of a JCB digger. He was believed to have been the first man in Bristol to have driven a digger. His son said he was a ‘very sought after digger driver’.

As funerals become more of a celebration of a person’s life, rather than a sad occasion, a huge variety of classic cars and vintage motors have been converted into funeral cars and hearses.

And over the years funeral processions have included some really ‘weird and wonderful’ hearses, including:

  • Ghostbusters Ectomobile
  • Monster Trucks
  • Tanks
  • Motorbike and Trailer
  • Tractor and Trailer
  • Campervan
  • Tandem Bicycle

How Much is a Hearse?

The costs of a hearse does depend on what you want. The most common, and therefore those that attract the least cost, are the typical black motorised car. More elaborate hearses will come with extra costs attached.

At Stibbards and Sons our funeral packages include provision of the hearse along with the coffin the bearers, leaving from an address of your choosing and includes your choice of route to the service. A traditional funeral procession is usually followed by limousines or private cars carrying mourners and we can arrange the funeral cars too.

Traditional funeral processions will usually include a lead car. This is a vehicle that goes in front of the hearse with its hazard lights flashing. This alerts other vehicles and passers-by that a funeral procession is in place. The funeral director may also walk in front of the lead car. This is known as paging away and comes form the era of horse drawn vehicles. Walking in front allowed the funeral director to stop any other approaching carts.

More frequently today the pagers will walk in front for a short distance then return to the lead vehicle and continue to the service by car.

Other Things to Consider… Funeral Cars

Once you’ve decided the hearse and how you’re conveying the coffin, arranging funeral cars for the immediate family and friends comes next.

How many cars naturally depends on how many people you’d need to transport but as a guide modern funeral cars often hold between seven and nine people.

So you’ll need to decide the following:

Who will be travelling in the funeral cars?
Where the procession will begin and end
Do any of the mourners need special transport requirements, for example, a vehicle that can hold a wheelchair?

It’s normal for all the other mourners to follow behind in private cars. It may be worth hiring a coach to reduce the line of cars in the cortege, if there are lot of mourners to transport.

Funeral processions don’t have any special rights on the road such as right of way at roundabouts. But most drivers, when they encounter a funeral procession, want to behave in a respectful manner. Etiquette says you should give the whole procession right of way and sometimes cars that are in the procession drive with dipped headlights to alert other drivers that they are following the hearse. It’s also considered disrespectful to sound your horn at a slow moving procession, or play loud music if your car is nearby.

The Order of Your Funeral Cars

Following tradition means a certain order for your funeral cars, but in reality it can be whatever order you choose. After all you want the memory of the procession and ceremony to be a good one rather than it being stressful. Who sits in which car can sometimes bring up family politics.

If tradition is your preference you should use at least two limousines. Immediate family members, so parents, children and spouses, would ride in the first limousine. Other family members and friends ride in the second. A family with young children might also wish to stay close to each other, which may change the seating plan.
And while most hearses are chauffeur driven, it’s also possible to drive the hearse yourself (unless you are using a horse drawn carriage or one of the other black car alternatives). Obviously you’d need a licence and proper insurance.

Advice from S.Stibbards & Sons

At S. Stibbards & Sons, we’re proud to offer a variety of advice for your loved one’s funeral. With our plans, you choose the funeral you want and if you would like to discuss any part of your funeral plan with us, please get in touch through our contact page today.

Supporting You Along The Way

If you wish to have a discussion with one of our funeral arrangers, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We can talk through yours and your loved one’s needs and discuss how we can best celebrate their life.

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