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SPECIAL: Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road

6/20/2007 - 5:55 AM PST

(Page 6 of 18)

Driving a vehicle and the risks entailed

38. Drivers on the road should be fully aware, without dreading such a situation, that an accident may occur at any time. Despite the generally high quality of today's roads in developed countries, it is foolish to drive "thoughtlessly" as if such dangers did not exist. Our attitude when driving should be the same as if we were using dangerous tools, and therefore being very careful.

39. Statistics bear this out. In 2001, global output of motor vehicles amounted to 57 million, compared with 10 million in 1950. During the 20th century approximately 35 million people lost their lives in road accidents, whilst around one and a half billion were injured. In 2000 alone, deaths amounted to 1,260,000, and it is also noteworthy that around 90% of accidents were due to human error. The harm caused to the families of those involved in accidents, as well as the protracted consequences for the injured, who all too often are permanently disabled, should also be borne in mind. In addition to harm to persons, the enormous damage to material goods should also be taken into account.

40. This all adds up to a real disaster, and poses a serious challenge to society and the Church. It is not surprising that the UN General Assembly seriously tackled this issue at a plenary session in April 2004, which was specifically aimed at raising public awareness regarding the extent of the problem with a view to making precise recommendations on road safety[9].

41. Pope Paul VI said: "Too much blood is spilt every day in an absurd competition with speed and time. Whilst international organisations willingly devote themselves to reconciling painful rivalries, magnificent progress is being made in conquering space and adequate means are being sought to tackle the scourges of hunger, ignorance and disease, it is distressing to think that all over the world countless lives continue to be sacrificed every year to this unjustifiable fate. Public awareness should awake and consider this problem in the same light as the most determined, who arouse the enthusiasm and interest of the whole world"[10].

The obligatory nature of road regulations

42. When drivers endanger their own and other people's lives, and the physical and mental wellbeing of persons, as well as considerable material goods, they are guilty of a serious shortcoming, even when such behaviour does not cause accidents, because, in any case, it entails serious risks. It should also be pointed out that the majority of accidents are precisely caused by such carelessness.

43. The Church's teaching on these issues is very clear: "The often tragic consequences of infringements of the Highway Code give them an intrinsically obligatory nature that is far more serious than is generally thought. Motorists cannot merely rely on their own vigilance and ability to prevent accidents, but should rather maintain an appropriate margin of safety, if they wish to be free of carelessness and avoid unforeseeable difficulties"[11]. Indeed, "rightly, civil laws regarding human coexistence support the great law of Non occides, thou shalt not kill, which stands out in the timeless Ten Commandments, and is a holy precept of the Lord for everyone"[12].

44. Therefore, "through strict observance of the Highway Code, everyone should be committed to creating a 'road culture' based on widespread understanding of everyone's rights and duties and behaviour consistent with its implications"[13].

45. Theological, ethical, legal and technological principles support the moralisation of road use. "Such principles are based on the respect due to human life, to the human person, which is inculcated from the very first pages of Holy Scripture. The human person is sacred: it is created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Genesis 1:26), and redeemed through the immeasurable price of Christ's blood (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Peter 1:18-19), and has been introduced within the Church and the Communion of Saints, with the right and the duty of mutual, effective and sincere charity towards one's brothers and sisters, according to the command of the Apostle Paul: 'Love must be sincere ... Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves' (Romans 12:9-10)"[14].

The moral responsibility of road users

46. Obviously, careless motorists, motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians do not wish for the fatal consequences of an accident they cause, nor do they intend to harm the life and property of others. However, as these consequences are the product of a conscious action, we may rightly speak of moral responsibility.

"For a bad effect to be imputable it must be foreseeable and the agent must have the possibility of avoiding it, as in the case of manslaughter caused by a drunken driver"[15].When driving without the requisite ...

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