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SPECIAL: Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road

6/20/2007 - 5:55 AM PST

(Page 7 of 18)

conditions (for example, carelessly, or lacking the necessary capacities), one endangers life and goods, which presupposes infringement of moral law, due to the voluntary nature of the act.

47. The moral responsibility of road users, both drivers and pedestrians, derives from the obligation to respect the Fifth and Seventh Commandments: "Thou shalt not kill" and "Thou shalt not steal". The gravest sins against human life, deriving from the Fifth Commandment, are suicide and murder, but this commandment also requires respect for one's own and other people's physical and mental wellbeing.

Careless absent-mindedness and negligence are acts that go against such commandments, and their degree of moral seriousness is measured in terms of how foreseeable, or to some extent intentional, they are. This means that, beyond the prohibition of directly killing, wounding or maiming, the Lord's commandment forbids any act that might bring about such harm indirectly. The same goes for any damage caused to one's neighbour's goods.

48. Moral law prohibits exposing anyone to grave danger, without serious grounds, as well as refusing assistance to a person in danger. In addition, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that "the virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco or medicine. Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and other's safety on the road, at sea, or in the air"[16].

V. The Christian virtue of drivers and their "Ten Commandments"

Charity and serving one's neighbour

49. Back in 1956 Pope Pius XII exhorted motorists: "Do not forget to respect other road users, be courteous and fair with other drivers and pedestrians and show them your obliging nature. Pride yourselves in being able to master an often natural impatience, in sometimes sacrificing a little of your sense of honour so that the courteousness that is a sign of true charity may prevail. Not only will you thus be able to avoid unpleasant accidents, but you will also help to make the car a more useful tool for yourselves and others that is capable of giving you a more genuine pleasure"[17].

50. This pontifical exhortation is echoed much later by the Belgian bishops who requested drivers to show "proof of courtesy and charity, by giving way with an understanding attitude to the awkward manoeuvres of learner drivers, paying attention to the elderly, children, cyclists and pedestrians and controlling themselves in the case of infractions committed by other people. Christian solidarity encourages all road users to exercise greater sensitivity, and to help the injured and the elderly, with particular care given to children and the disabled. And attention to the body should also be accompanied by spiritual assistance, which is no less urgent in many cases"18].

51. The exercise of charity by drivers has a dual dimension. The first regards looking after one's vehicle, which means making sure that it is safe from a technical point of view, so as not to knowingly put one's own or other people's lives at risk. Taking care of one's vehicle also means not expecting more from it than it is able to give.

The second dimension regards love of travellers whose lives should not be endangered by incorrect and careless manoeuvres that may cause harm to both passengers and pedestrians. The word "love" is used here to mean the many forms taken by genuine charity, namely respect, courtesy, consideration, etc. Good drivers courteously give way to pedestrians, are not offended when overtaken, allow someone who wishes to drive faster to pass and do not seek revenge.

The virtue of Prudence

52. This virtue has always been presented as one of the most necessary and important with regard to road traffic, as stated in the following text: "Another virtue that may not be overlooked is prudence. This calls for a suitable margin of precaution to deal with the unforeseen events that may occur at any time"[19]. Obviously, someone who allows their attention to be diverted whilst driving by a mobile phone or television is not behaving in accordance with prudence.

53. Still on the theme of prudence: "Road users should not drive too fast, and should calculate a wide margin of time, which is theoretically and psychologically necessary to brake. They should not overestimate their own abilities and quickness, and should constantly monitor their attention and conversation. In this regard, travelling companions should also be aware of their responsibility"[20].

The virtue of Justice

54. Undoubtedly, any human relationship should be governed by justice, even more so if life is at stake. Ever since it became interested in the traffic issue, the Church has referred to this virtue. In this regard, the following exhortation says: "Justice requires ...

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