Proposed Maine Bill Would Regulate Funeral Vehicles

Funeral Industry News April 14, 2021
Funeral Home Vehicles
Diana Ionescu

Diana is a writer and urbanist based in Los Angeles. Her interests include modern grief rituals, innovative disposition methods, and navigating death and mourning in an increasingly secular society.

Proposed Maine Bill Would Regulate Funeral Vehicles

A proposed bill in the Maine legislature would create new requirements for vehicles used by funeral homes to protect the safety of drivers, reports Steve Collins for the Sun Journal. As with many vehicle-safety bills, this one resulted from a tragic accident that claimed a life. In this case, it was the life of a deathcare professional.

According to Collins, the proposed bill would “change state law to require that platforms installed in cars and trucks used by funeral homes be lower than the front seats” and “secured to the floor of the vehicle so they can’t become dislodged.” It would also “require ‘a functioning system’ that ensures nothing within can be jarred loose in an accident.”

Family blames the funeral home

The bill is the result of efforts by Marie Charest. Charest is the widow of part-time funeral home worker Richard Charest, 59, who died in a crash during a routine transport in 2017. A speeding Hummer rear-ended the Ford Flex minivan driven by Charest, forcing Charest’s vehicle off the road. Charest might have survived the crash if the wooden platform that held the deceased hadn’t dislodged and slid into the front seat. The platform severed Charest’s spine and killed him on the spot.

Marie Charest blames the funeral home and wants to see transport vehicles redesigned with added safety features. She found out that worker’s compensation laws prevent her from suing her husband’s employer for negligence. The funeral home had not broken any laws or skirted any existing regulations. Consequently, she decided to take her cause to the state legislature to ensure the same tragedy won’t happen to others.

“The state Board of Funeral Services, which regulates the industry in Maine, heard her complaint and quickly decided the funeral home was not at fault,” writes Collins. “It didn’t do anything outside standard industry practice in the state.” 

Newer vehicles are safer

Experts say most funeral and transport vehicles sold today are safer than the vehicle Charest drove. Jason Cartwright, an operations manager for Armbruster Stageway, said he performs a lot of repairs from collisions. He said he has “never heard of an instance where the casket or platform wound up hurting a driver.”

Rep. Tavis Hasenfus introduced HP 889, the bill Charest is promoting. It would create a set of rules for modifications of funeral industry vehicles. The bill would also hold funeral homes accountable for making the appropriate changes to ensure driver safety in all transport vehicles. 

Charest hopes the bill’s passage will prevent other families from experiencing the same trauma. She also hopes it will keep funeral home workers safe while on the job.