Valley company pushing for stronger funeral escort regulation

Posted at 7:46 PM, Jun 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-09 00:38:51-04

When funeral processions pass us by, drivers have the expectation that the escorts leading the way are doing so safely.

One Valley company says while that is the case for several funeral escort services, state law needs to require more training.

Helene Bergeron has been with funeral escort company Phoenix Metro Traffic for 10 years, and said the traffic control methods used by some companies may put the public at risk.

She shared dash camera video of other local escort companies with ABC15.  

One video shows an escort car pulling up to a crosswalk with a pedestrian in the middle of the road. The car paused before continuing to roll through the intersection. Bergeron said the safer option would have been to stop and let the pedestrian continue to cross, rather than leave her potentially stuck in the road when the light turned green.

Right now Arizona Revised Statute 28-776 gives funeral escorts traffic control powers similar to police, fire and other emergency vehicles. 

By law, county sheriffs across the state are tasked with handing out permits, but Bergeron says the law requires no real training to learn how to safely manage traffic.

"We concerned for our industry. We're concerned that somebody's going to get killed or very badly hurt," she said.

Another video shows a funeral escort driving into oncoming traffic when there appears to be an open lane in the proper direction. Bergeron says it's safer to use the lane to the right of the procession if it is available.

In a third video, an escort is shown pulling behind two cars on a green left arrow. The vehicle then abruptly drives onto the median to drive around the two cars. Waiting a few more seconds would have given the cars time to make the turn and given the escort room to maneuver, according to Bergeron.

The law requires the words "Funeral Escort" to be on the cars. As well as "one lighted lamp exhibiting a red or red and blue light, along with a siren or exhaust whistle."

It's not enough for Bergeron, and the company is lobbying for changes to the law and how it is enforced.

"I'd like to see light bars on all the vehicles so you can see from all directions," she said. "I'd like to see permanent markings on all the vehicles so we know who they are."

The markings should include company names in case of accidents or to report unsafe driving Bergeron says.

"They're not in this job to be the Fast and the Furious. They're in this job to provide a public safety service," she said.

We were able to speak with two of the companies involved in the videos who say they sometimes work together and have extensive training programs.

The owners say the videos were taken by the same driver who has since been terminated, but their opinions differed about one of the videos.
One owner said in part: 
"The first two videos were not how we trained the driver to do so. That driver is with my company and has since then been terminated for reason like that and other reasons. The last video he cleared correctly, he stopped for the pedestrian in the crosswalk and then proceeded to clear intersection, once intersection was cleared he proceeded onward. I see nothing wrong with that video."

Another said in part: 
"While the actions taken in these videos were NOT life threatening in any way, they WERE against our company's safety protocols and standards."

We want to know, have you felt unsafe or questioned the actions of escorts during a funeral procession?