NOTIONS: When in the car, thou shalt do as I command

June 25, 2007

The Vatican did something unusual last week. It issued a new set of Ten Commandments. Unlike the originals, these aren't for everyone. They're just for motorists. They weren't delivered on stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God, either. They were issued at a news conference by the Vatican's office for migrants and itinerant people.

Why drivers' commandments? Well, according to the Associated Press, the Vatican believes cars can be "an occasion of sin," particularly when used for dangerous passing or for prostitution.

Then there's road rage. The Vatican said driving can bring out "primitive" behavior, including "impoliteness, rude gestures, cursing, blasphemy, loss of sense of responsibility or deliberate infringement of the highway code."

And, said Cardinal Renato Martino, who heads the Vatican's office of migrants and itinerant people, "We know that as a consequence of transgressions and negligence, 1.2 million people die each year on the roads. That's a sad reality, and at the same time, a great challenge for society and the church."

So the Vatican issued "Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road." It extols the benefits of driving (e.g., getting to the hospital or exploring other cultures). It laments the ills (e.g., drivers using their cars to show off; drivers dominating others by speeding; drivers killing themselves and others if they don't maintain their cars, if they drink, use drugs or fall asleep at the wheel.)

According to the Associated Press, the Vatican "called for drivers to obey speed limits and to exercise a host of Christian virtues: charity to fellow drivers, prudence on the roads, hope of arriving safely and justice in the event of crashes."

"And it suggested prayer might come in handy-making the sign of the cross before starting off and saying the rosary along the way. The rosary was particularly well-suited to recitation by all in the car since its 'rhythm and gentle repetition does not distract the driver's attention.'"

Then it issued the "Drivers' Ten Commandments."

1. You shall not kill.

2. The road shall be for you a means of communion between people and not of mortal harm.

3. Courtesy, uprightness and prudence will help you deal with unforeseen events.

4. Be charitable and help your neighbor in need, especially victims of accidents.

5. Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin.

6. Charitably convince the young and not-so-young not to drive when they are not in a fitting condition to do so.

7. Support the families of accident victims.

8. Bring guilty motorists and their victims together, at the appropriate time, so that they can undergo the liberating experience of forgiveness.

9. On the road, protect the more vulnerable party.

10. Feel responsible toward others.

My friends at the American Civil Liberties Union will crucify me for this, but these commandments offer wise counsel. We should display them at BMV branches. Cops should hand them out. And they'd provide ideal driver-training advice.

But before we do that, the Vatican missed a few. I can't speak with Cardinal Martino's authority, but I probably drive more than he does. So herewith are Hetrick's Ten Commandments for Drivers:

1. If thou art not passing, thou shalt get the hell out of the left lane. When I was 15, I was told: "Stay right except to pass." But this came to me in a private conversation with God. No other driver has ever heard this.

2. If the laggards clog the left lane anyway, thou shalt not race up the right lane in a vain attempt to pass. Practitioners of this technique have nearly killed me on several occasions.

3. Thou shalt use thine turn signals. That's why God commanded the Society of Automotive Engineers to put them there.

4. Thou shalt pull over to use thine cell phone. I've no scientific evidence to verify this, but I swear the average motorist slows down 12.7 miles per hour while talking on the phone.

5. Thou shalt steer wide and slow down for police officers and highway workers. These people are dying to help us, but not in the literal sense.

6. Thou shalt not run red lights. Is it my imagination, or is this getting worse?

7. Thou shalt not block intersections. It's a mortal sin to pull into gridlocked intersections and gridlock them further.

8. Thou shalt turn right or left on red when that option's available. Don't just sit there.

9. Thou shalt think ahead. If you need to be in a different lane a few blocks down the road, get there in advance rather than blocking multiple lanes at the last second.

10. Thou shalt stay in thine lane. Even if you're a middle-of-the road kind of person, you don't have to prove it behind the wheel.

Follow these commandments, and we'll all be on the road to a safer, happier and yes, even holier, driving experience.

Hetrick is chairman and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bhetrick@ibj.com.
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