The Fight To Get Purple Lights

June 3, 2010

Richard Wojcik complained after being told lights were illegal

The flashing purple lights are an unmistak­able symbol for funeral processions across the province. And until Wednesday, they were illegal.

But now Manitoba Public Insurance offi­cials say they’ll allow funeral operators to have the lights on their vehicles to improve road safety in the province.

The move came after funeral operators like Richard Wojcik went to MPI and re­quested a rule change. Wojcik, the owner of Wojcik’s Funeral Chapel, said he was angry after being ticket­ed twice by police for having the lights on his vehicles. He estimated the company spent about $8,000 outfitting two Crown Victorias with purple light bars across their roofs to lead funeral processions.

He was irate when police contacted him in 2009 and told him he was breaking the law — especially since he’d had the lights on one car since 2004. He said the light is a visible and symbolic indicator to other drivers to “slow down.”

“You cannot miss that vehicle coming down a street,” said Wojcik.

Now, funeral operators can apply for a free permit to install the lights and will only be allowed to flash them when leading a pro­cession.

The lead vehicle in a funeral procession in Winnipeg must slow down or halt at red lights and stop signs, checking for safety before proceeding. After that vehicle pass­es through the intersection, the convoy of vehicles has the right-of-way over the other vehicles at the intersection.

Police said earlier this year the law caused a traffic hazard because motorists in a pro­cession might have been confused about the right-of-way. One officer said it was only a “matter of time” before a fatality occurred.

MPI sent a letter Wednesday to about 55 funeral operators informing them the change is to “increase the visibility of fu­neral processions and, in doing so, alert other road users to the special right-of-way provisions.”

Flashing purple lights will only be allowed for funeral vehicles leading processions, not for motorists interested in jazzing up their vehicles.

“They’re distinctive, they’re eye-catch­ing… studies have shown that the flashing purple lights are very distinctive. They are even more so distinctive than the usual red and blue that (emergency vehicles) are using now,” said MPI spokesman Brian Smiley.

MPI said in the letter policing agencies will also be notified about the rule change.

Sgt. Doug Safioles of Winnipeg Police Ser­vice’s central traffic unit said he hopes the lights will improve the general safety of fu­neral processions.

“Most police don’t support funeral proces­sions going through red lights… it’s just so dangerous,” he said.

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