Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Those Last Rites Don't Always Get the Right of Way

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Those Last Rites Don't Always Get the Right of Way

Article excerpt

ONE OF LIFE'S cool contradictions, says comedian Dennis Miller, is that after you spend your days obeying traffic signals, you get to run red lights at the end - in your funeral procession.

Funny line. But not necessarily true.

Ask Diana and Steve Piantanida.

The Piantanidas assumed, as many of us do, that running red lights is OK when you're enveloped in a funeral procession. Actually, they assumed that until last month, when Steve ran a red light in a funeral procession on Telegraph Road, and their car and another car smashed into each other.

The wreck caused $5,000 damage to their new Mercury wagon.

And their insurance company says it will drop their accident-free discount.

The problem is that the Piantanidas, of Ballwin, were rolling in a procession in St. Louis County, where an ordinance outlaws what they thought they could do.

Interestingly, everyone else in the procession thought they could do it, too. "They were going through red lights after we had our accident," Diana Piantanida said wryly.

Part of the confusion might be that the rules vary so much, at least in Missouri.

Missouri law allows - but doesn't require - cities and counties to outlaw processional red-light running.

The result is inconsistency.

In St. Louis, an ordinance allows drivers to run lights, although the lead driver has to obey the lights.

But in St. Louis County, everyone in a procession has to yield the right of way at red lights, unless the procession gets a police escort.

This is nothing new. A version of the ordinance has been on the books since at least 1962, longer than this traffic column has been around, longer than this traffic columnist has been around.

The law can vary by municipality, too. In Florissant, the ordinance mirrors the county's, but other communities allow red-light running. The Missouri attorney general's office doesn't know how many communities allow it or bar it.

Things are simpler in Illinois, where a state law controls everything. There, Dennis, Steve and Diana would be partly right.

A state law says the lead driver in a procession must obey stop signs and stop lights. But everyone else can sail on through - as long as they have their headlights on and they're not getting in the way of a firetruck, ambulance or police car. …

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