Column: Is driving driving you crazy?

by Father Mark Goldasich

Dang women drivers!

This morning on I-70, I looked over to my left and there was a woman in a brand-new Escalade, driving way over the speed limit, with her face up next to her rearview mirror putting on eyeliner.

I turned away for just a couple of seconds and, when I looked back, she was halfway over in my lane, still working on that makeup.

As a man and a seasoned driver, I don’t scare too easily. But this woman scared me so much, I dropped my electric shaver, which knocked the doughnut out of my other hand. In all of the confusion of trying to straighten out the car using my knees against the steering wheel, my cell phone fell away from my ear into the coffee between my legs, splashing the seat, ruining the cell phone, soaking my pants and disconnecting an important call to the archbishop! I just don’t understand why they give licenses to women; they’re so dangerous on the roads!

OK, before you call the highway patrol to arrest me (or that woman driver above), let me reassure you that the opening story is just that: a story. You’ve probably seen a similar e-mail in your in-box recently. It’s a humorous way to highlight a very unfunny problem: the increasingly dangerous roads that we travel.

A couple of months ago, The Christophers — a nonprofit Catholic organization headquartered in New York City — released a pamphlet entitled “Road Rage: Put the Brakes On!” Then on June 19, the Vatican issued a set of “Ten Commandments” for drivers. The risks of driving are real and, with more and more cars on the road, the problem is getting worse.

The Vatican document, from the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, highlighted some frightening statistics. In the 20th century, about 35 million people died in road accidents and 1.5 billion were injured. In the year 2000 alone, traffic deaths reached nearly 1.3 million and “90 percent of the accidents were due to human error.”

The Christophers pamphlet notes that, according to traffic authorities, bad driving is the “number one cause of anger that touches off most road rage incidents.” Furthermore, “most of these trivial incidents [like cutting someone off or driving too slowly in the fast lane] were actually unintended errors of judgment, but were perceived as intentional in-your-face threats.”

So, what can be done? Should we all just buy Humvees and have them outfitted with gun ports in the doors? Actually, the solution is much simpler (and cheaper). We need to take the Christophers philosophy to heart: It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. In other words, one person can make a positive difference in the world. How? In this case, by becoming a better driver.

A good place to start is by adopting the Vatican’s “Ten Commandments” for drivers. Among them are:

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

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

• “Feel responsible toward others.” To these, I’d add my own list:

• When you drive, drive. Focus solely on operating your vehicle safely. Set aside the cell phones, in particular.

• Drive the speed limit. What’s posted on the sign is not just a suggestion. (Your local law enforcement officer will help you remember this one.)

• Leave at least 10 minutes earlier (than you think you need to) for your destination. I suspect that only about a third of the roads are not under some kind of construction at this time of year.

• Fasten your seat belt. Those 5 seconds to buckle up may save your life.

• Use your turn signals. Please.

• Slow down to practically a crawl in parking lots: Remember there could be children darting out, elderly people pushing carts or using canes, or other vehicles backing out.

• For those with handicap parking placards hanging from your rearview mirror, remove them before driving. It’s hard enough to see without that huge blue thing blocking the view out of the windshield.

Take some time this week to reflect on your driving. Be honest. Note any of your own bad habits. Reread your Kansas driver’s handbook. (You didn’t just throw it away, did you, after renewing your license?)

Perhaps the best preparation for navigating today’s highways is to make a sign of the cross and take a deep breath before slipping the car into drive. Think of these actions as “putting gas into your heart and soul.”

Thus prepared, we can tackle the road — maybe not always willingly, but at least attentively and politely.

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