Funeral Directors May Soon Be Traffic Cops

October 29, 2009
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image ILLINOIS – Mike Gill has been involved in the funeral business for 31 years. He soon will be adding another line to his resume – traffic cop.

Legislation that passed the General Assembly this month will allow funeral directors, such as Gill, the right to direct traffic during funeral processions if police are unable to do the job.

The co-owner of the Brady-Gill Funeral Homes in Evergreen Park, Lemont and Tinley Park, Gill would prefer to stay in his vehicle and lead the line of cars carrying family members and loved ones to the final resting place of the deceased.

But he no longer has a choice.

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“The lights and the sticker in the window just isn’t doing it anymore,” Gill said.

“We had to come up with something that made us more visible to Joe Driver on the street.”

You would think a ceremony for the dead would be the one time the living would exercise some respect.

But that’s not the case on the roads. Gill sees the worst every day.

Drivers trying to squeeze through the slightest gap in funeral processions so they can pass through an intersection. Motorists cutting off mourners so they can turn left into a driveway. Then there are those who flick on their headlights and join the motorcade so they can coast through construction zones and avoid stopping for flaggers.

Several years ago, a Brady-Gill funeral with close to 140 cars was rear-ended, causing a chain-reaction crash involving five cars. The injured needed to seek treatment at the hospital.

Another time a driver in Oak Forest abruptly changed lanes and blocked several relatives of the departed en route to the cemetery. They didn’t take too kindly to the gesture.

“Next thing you know, at the next stop they pulled the guy out of the car,” Gill said. “They were mad. Some people will take matters into their own hands, which I don’t recommend.”

State Sen. Maggie Crotty (D-Oak Forest) saw the same kind of behavior while driving to a burial at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood. She approached Gill – a college roommate of her brother at Southern Illinois University – looking for ideas. He gave her plenty.

Her legislation gives funeral processions the right-of-way at intersections when all vehicles have their headlights and hazard lights on. The current law requires only headlights, but Gill said the daytime running lights that are becoming standard on many vehicles are confusing drivers.

The biggest change will allow funeral home employees to leave their vehicles to stop traffic so a procession can proceed. The busier the intersection – think 159th Street and Harlem Avenue in Tinley Park – the more likely you’ll see them directing traffic.

Crotty’s bill cleared the Senate Oct. 15. It awaits the signature of Gov. Pat Quinn.

“I feel confident it will be signed,” Crotty said.

Gill said it’s a tough world out there.

In Chicago and the suburbs, the traffic already is unforgiving. But many senior citizens in the suburbs want to be laid to rest at the family cemetery in the old neighborhood in Chicago. That can mean a long drive through some busy areas.

For Gill, Crotty’s bill also would eliminate a huge liability issue.

At his funeral home at 167th Street and Oak Park Avenue in Tinley Park, Gill regularly stops traffic so cars can leave his parking lot. While that’s not legal, technically, he said there’s no other way when cops cannot provide assistance.

Gill long has worried he could be at fault if one of his funerals caused a bad wreck.

“Thank God, no one has been hurt or seriously injured,” he said. “But if there was, the funeral home could be found liable. … I’ve worked a long time here. I don’t want someone to come in here and take my place away because I was doing something wrong some day and my insurance won’t cover it.”

Mostly, he would like to see a some common sense and a little bit of patience from drivers. But that’s something no one can legislate.

“Most funeral processions going through an intersection take all of 60 or 120 seconds of your time,” Gill said. “You might miss one light, but that’s about it.”

Mike Gill, of Brady-Gill Funeral Homes, sees the worst every day.

Drivers trying to squeeze through the slightest gap in funeral processions so they can pass through an intersection. Motorists cutting off mourners so they can turn left into a driveway. Then there are those who flick on their headlights and join the motorcade so they can coast through construction zones and avoid stopping for flaggers.

Source: SouthtownStar.com

Photo: Mike Gill, a co-owner of Brady Gill Funeral Home, helped draft state legislation allowing funeral directors to direct traffic. (Joseph P. Meier/SouthtownStar)

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