One driver for a local company of funeral directors still remembers the day a delivery wagon overtook the fleet of mourners and cut in behind the hearse. Live life to the max, said the slogan on the back of the wagon.
The moment of black humour lives with him to this day, but he admits: “The driver didn’t turn off, or pull over, which made it distressing for those who followed. There’s always the chance some may miss a turn off, too, if they can’t see the hearse.”
The driver does not wish to be identified and stresses such incidents are in the minority.
Yet, a new survey claims half of Britain’s drivers have witnessed, or taken part in, an incident of road rage against a funeral cortege. Some see red at the procession of black for fear it’s going to interfere with their lives.
And fewer show the respect once automatically accorded those grieving the loss of a loved one. Curtains are no longer routinely closed on the day of the funeral, people no longer pause to bow heads, or doff caps, as the cortege passes. And many motorists won’t even afford the basic courtesy of giving way to mourners, or permitting the whole cortege to cross at a junction.
But it’s still more of an issue in bigger cities. Closer knit smaller communities still retain a sense of identity and respect.
Fleetwood funeral director Jason Dell and his sister Helen run an independent company, on Poulton Road, and take their responsibility very seriously.
“It’s a service no-one wants but everyone needs,” says Jason. “You’re dealing with people at their most vulnerable. Because we are a totally independent company we have more freedom. We’re close to the community. I think road rage is more likely to occur in cities.”
Helen, 28, adds: “I think people still show respect here. Fleetwood is that kind of place. People still care. You don’t get people cutting in that often and, if they do, it’s usually a mistake and they turn off as soon as they realise their mistake.”
Thornton-based John Byrne (Junior) helps run another local independent family (two generations) firm of funeral directors, JT Byrne, at Victoria Road.
They have another base at Beach Road, Fleetwood, having moved to bigger premises from Poulton Road.
John’s sister Angela, who runs the Fleetwood office, admits: “I’ve only been doing this for 18 months, but I really enjoy it. You are doing something that is really valued by people, important to them.”
John adds: “It’s crucial we get it right. People like the fact we’re not some big impersonal chain. We live in the area and we know the community. People still show respect. Yes, some cut in between hearse and limo. It’s usually a mistake.
“It’s a bit frightening especially if you’re paging a funeral – that’s when you walk in front of the hearse for 30-40 yards. It’s about old traditional values. It’s a mark of respect people like. We will do so past places the deceased knew, nursing homes, pubs, places of work.
“It’s such a little thing to do, but hugely significant to mourners. We’d hate it to get spoilt by some idiot tearing past.
“Sometimes there’s just the hearse, which is sad, no mourners at all, or half a dozen limos with 30 or more cars following. We did a lovely one with motorbikes, even the hearse was a motorbike with adapted sidecar. It all made a fantastic noise. We plan the route in advance and check for any changes, such as roadworks or problems at junctions. Police often help out with outriders.”
John owns up to being more upset at the fact that Fleetwood Cemetery charges the second highest cemetery fees in Lancashire.
“People think we’re recession-proof, but money matters to most people, particularly today, and we give people as simple, or as lavish, a funeral as they require.”
Trevor Box, the funeral director with the most apposite name, is the third generation to run the Blackpool and Poulton-based independent family firm, Box Bros, established in 1915, and now covering much of the North West.
He explains: “I’ve got 25 vehicles on the road these days, up as far as Bolton, St Helens and Lancaster, so we’re talking motorways, cities, towns, villages, the works. We now tend to leave sidelights on, as buses do, to make the cortege more obvious, so safer. Some firms put flags on the following cars but I don’t think that’s appropriate.
“People dart in front, overtake, cut in behind the hearse. It even happens with the horse drawn hearse and you can’t just stop a horse if someone decides to cut in.
“Roadworks locally are the big issue. It’s been a nightmare. We plan ahead, we do a recce of the route on the day, but you can’t prepare for everything. And roadworks add to other people’s impatience.
“I was born here, joined the company in 1947, and I won’t sell because I think we need independent companies with traditional family values. But there’s far less respect connected with funerals these days, far less respect in general.”