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Who has the right of way in a car accident with a funeral procession or emergency vehicle?

You were involved in an accident with a funeral procession or emergency vehicle.  Are you automatically at fault? There are many situations where the privilege of operating as an emergency vehicle or as part of a funeral procession does not apply because the operator does not follow Maryland law. 

Maryland law permits anyone in a funeral procession to pass though a red traffic signal as long as the first vehicle in the procession went through the intersection while the traffic light was green (before it changed to red). Maryland Transportation Code 21-207 states that the funeral procession vehicle’s headlights and flashers must also be on at the time they are traveling through the intersection. If either were not turned on at the time of the accident, the privilege does not apply to that vehicle. 

While the funeral procession travels through a red traffic signal, any other vehicle with a green light may enter the intersection but only if it will not cross the procession’s path of travel. The funeral procession vehicle has the right-of-way while traveling through the intersection on a red traffic signal over all other vehicles that enter the intersection on a green light. Therefore, even if you arrive at an intersection and face a green traffic signal, you have a duty to yield to all vehicles that have their headlights and flashers as part of a funeral procession. 

Similarly, Maryland law permits an emergency vehicle to pass though a red traffic signal while responding to an emergency call, pursuing a violator of the law, or transporting certain person(s) or human organs. An emergency vehicle may include the following:

  • Escorting homeland security, a funeral, a dignitary, or facilitating the safe movement of vehicles or pedestrians;
  • Organ delivery vehicle, under certain circumstances;
  • Firefighters, police officers, and medical personnel vehicles.

Emergency vehicles are, however, required to act with care.  Maryland Transportation Code 21-106 places some duties upon emergency vehicles while operating these vehicles. First, Maryland law requires that emergency vehicles display audible and visual signals at the time of transportation. However, police vehicles are only required to have audible signals activated at the time of the travel. In addition, the law does permit emergency vehicles to pass through a red traffic signal or stop sign, but only after slowing down as necessary for safety. 

Emergency vehicles are given quite a bit of deference while traveling on the roadways.  However, many people believe that there is no recourse against emergency vehicles because they were in pursuit of an emergency. Emergency vehicles are expected to meet certain requirements before the protection of an emergency vehicle applies to them and the situation. In addition, emergency vehicles are not permitted to blow through intersections at a high rate of speed and have no regard for the safety of persons and property around them.  They are permitted to drive at an excess of the speed limit, but only if they are not endangering those around them. 

Therefore, if you are involved in an accident with an emergency vehicle, the particular facts of the incident are important. It is important to reach out to an experienced attorney to discuss your particular case.

By Meghan Young, December 19, 2023


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