How would Jesus drive?
A Vatican commission issued guidelines yesterday reminding drivers not to ignore Christian principles and to respect life - and the rules of the road - as they shift into gear.
The Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People acknowledges the prominence of the automobile in society with its warnings against the use of vehicles in the "occasion of sin," such as road rage, prostitution and trafficking of people.
"Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road" is a four-part document that also addresses the needs of prostitutes, street children and the homeless.
It includes rules that parallel the Ten Commandments, starting with the most basic: "You shall not kill."
"Courtesy, uprightness and prudence will help you deal with unforeseen events," is one command. "Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin," the Vatican tells motorists.
Cursing - including taking the Lord's name in vain - is also denounced.
"Most religious principles would probably be beneficial if applied in a traffic setting, whether they be Christian or Jewish or Muslim principles," said Greg Shipley, a spokesman for the Maryland State Police.
In fact, the forerunner of the state police was established because of the rise of the criminal use of cars, Shipley said. In 1921, the commissioner for motor vehicles founded the State Police Force, an agency with statewide authority to apprehend criminals who would evade authorities by driving to other jurisdictions.
Shipley pointed to the April deaths of two Pennsylvania residents on Interstate 270 near Frederick. The accident stemmed from an exchange of obscene gestures between the driver of a pickup truck and the driver and passenger of a convertible.
Two weeks ago, a cabdriver in Charles Village was shot after throwing coffee at the driver of another vehicle, according to police. Also, a Howard County police officer checking for speeders died Monday, two days after a driver failed to see him as he tried to flag her down, Shipley said.
"We know that there are people who could be driving a lot more courteously than they are on our highways," the state police spokesman said. "All of that contributes to a disregard [for] the safety of others."
Other groups have tried to point out that there's more to being a Christian driver than putting a plastic Jesus on the dashboard. In 2003, the Evangelical Environmental Network led a campaign titled "What Would Jesus Drive?" - asking people to consider reducing pollution and using more fuel-efficient vehicles.
According to the document released by the Vatican, motor vehicle accidents killed 1.26 million people worldwide in 2000, and 35 million in the 20th century - with 1.5 billion more injured. In the United States, more than 43,000 were killed and nearly 2.7 million were injured in 2005 traffic accidents, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics.
But it's up to individuals to decide what exactly is sinful, said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Troy Green.
Although the organization supports efforts to encourage courteous driving, "we do understand that it's not our place to determine whether or not certain behaviors are considered sins," Green said. "That's really up to a person's individual faith and belief system."
About 42 percent of 250 Maryland drivers polled for the regional auto club's 2007-2008 survey believe that aggressive drivers are the biggest danger on the state's roadways, he said. A similar percentage - 46 percent - indicated that fear in the previous survey.
This is not the first time Catholic leaders have pleaded with drivers to be more courteous. According to yesterday's document, Pope Pius XII urged motorists to respect other drivers and pedestrians in 1956. In a 1965 speech, Pope Paul VI said, "Too much blood is spilt every day in an absurd competition with speed and time."
The Vatican's guidelines describe how roads have increasingly become places where we spend much of our lives. It includes passages from both the Old and New Testament about travelers such as the Israelites - as well as the parable of the Good Samaritan, who helps a man who had been robbed and beaten on the side of the road.
Traveling "puts people in touch with each other, thereby contributing to the realisation of God's Love," the document states.
"Those who know Jesus Christ are careful on the roads," according to the document. "They don't only think about themselves, and ... getting to their destination in a great hurry. They see the people who 'accompany' them on the road, each of whom has their own life, their own desire to reach a destination and their own problems."
Drivers should realize that they coexist with others and must control "primitive" behavior. They are urged to follow motor vehicle law and maintain their cars, as well as pray out loud to feel immersed in God's presence. The document does not exempt violating speeding laws or passing other vehicles from its scrutiny, nor the feeling of arrogance, vanity or personal glorification.
"Driving should be considered by the same standards as any other social activity, which presupposes a commitment to mediate between one's own requirements and the limits imposed by others," it states.
The document seems sure to resonate not just with Catholics but with other religious leaders.
"This road rage is senseless," said the Rev. William C. Calhoun Sr., pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Upton and the president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, a citywide organization of pastors.
He said he considers the topic of road behavior part of his ministry. "We need to better gauge and organize our time and be good stewards of being courteous and considerate and patient with others, especially while we are on the road," he said.
Sun staff researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.
Driving?s ?Ten Commandments?
I. You shall not kill.
II. The road shall be for you a means of communion between people and not of mortal harm.
III. Courtesy, uprightness and prudence will help you deal with unforeseen events.
IV. Be charitable and help your neighbor in need, especially victims of accidents.
V. Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin.
VI. Charitably convince the young and not so young not to drive when they are not in a fitting condition to do so.
VII. Support the families of accident victims.
VIII. Bring guilty motorists and their victims together, at the appropriate time, so that they can undergo the liberating experience of forgiveness.
IX. On the road, protect the more vulnerable party.
X. Feel responsible towards others.
Source: ?Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road,? Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itiner? ant People