Who's watching? Legal loophole leaves funeral escorts with little regulation

PHOENIX - On a May afternoon, Brittany Vo was headed into work on the Agua Fria Loop 101 when traffic slowed to a crawl.

"I'm thinking to myself, okay there must be an accident," she explained.

There wasn't. As Vo inched up the HOV lane, she saw a SUV swerving across the middle three lanes blocking traffic. 

It was an escort for a funeral procession heading down the far right lane.

Video from her dash cam shows that after a few seconds the SUV stops in the middle lane.

"I sat there for a moment I was like 'okay, I think I'm able to pass in the left lane.'" But she says as she started down the road the SUV began moving toward her.

"He just turned right towards me and attempted to hit me. Like he was trying to stop me," she says.

She's not hurt, her car isn't damaged but she believes it's dangerous.

The maneuver is called a traffic break. It's used by officers to slow down traffic on highways.

But the SUV in the video was a civilian funeral escort.

State law gives them "all of the rights and privileges of a driver of an authorized emergency vehicle."

That means they are exempt from traffic laws as if they are police responding to a call.

We wondered do they get the same training?

In June, we showed you videos shared with ABC15 of funeral escorts driving into oncoming traffic, hopping curbs, and leaving pedestrians in the middle of a crosswalk.

Those companies told us, the driver was fired and their employees receive "extensive training."  

What kind of training? They didn't get back to us.
 

Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board (AZPOST) says officers in Arizona get a minimum of 28 hours of emergency driving training. Including avoidance exercises, mock pursuits and emergency response.

The requirement for funeral escorts? Well, there aren't any.

Right now, training is up to the county sheriff who "may" certify anyone with a valid driver's license "if they complete a training program... prescribed by the sheriff."

But in Maricopa County, a spokesman for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office says the law only requires it to register funeral escort vehicles, not certify people to drive them.

State Representative Isela Blanc, of Tempe, is concerned.

"I think most of the public assume like I did, that there was a system or a process in place to protect public safety," she says.

In 2018 she introduced legislation that would have required more lighting and permanent signs for escorts.

"I thought that was a good first step," she says.

The bill never got a hearing. She's still deciding what to do next but says one thing is clear.

"Now that we are aware, something needs to be done," she says.

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