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Ten Commandments of Driving

Hot off the presses, here's the Vatican's newly released discussion of the "moral aspects of driving."  Here are it's Ten Commandments for drivers:

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 neighbour 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.

My question for the discussion thread:  On these principles, is driving an SUV a sin?  (See, in this regard, Commandments I, II, V, IX, and X)

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A question from a non-Catholic: Was there something in particular that spurred this particular guidance from the Vatican? Just curious.

Melissa: The part about safe driving was brought up briefly last year as if to say there might be a greater statement later. Now there is one.I am sure that people will ask how someone could associate human trafficking with rush hour traffic and speak about both within the same document, but I give these folks credit for reminding each of us that each moment is a good moment to do something good and to look out for others. We can't always plan for when we are called to give witness, but we can always be ready to do so.

Eduardo: Good question. I live in an RV destination and not too far from me are some highways that are appreciated by motorcyclists and sports car drivers. It would be very difficult to convince that a nice hike in the woods is as good as riding a road known here as the "Tail of the Dragon".

Thanks, Father O'Neal.

When we lived in Yonkers, we said folks operated on the theory of "left of way". especially at red lights.Here in New Mexico, I was sorely tempted to make up a bumper sticker that said tailgaters were a form of the rear lower anatomy - but my wife said it would only provoke road rage.Actually, I think the problems of driving are just one more sympoton of the loss of courtesy caused by "me first" thinking (often rationalized as "enlightened self interest.")

Well I'll be a monkey's uncle. Here I am lamenting the fact that I run a defensive driving course (taiw.org) when I could be devoting full time to theology, culture and being a Good Samaritan. Now the Vatican is telling me I have been on the right course all along. I do admit that I do turn this part of my time into a continuous apostolate. But I am not sure about the following: "Travellers spirits may also be uplifted by contemplating the various religious symbols to be seen along a road or railway. These include churches, bell towers, chapels, column tops, crosses and statues, as well as places of pilgrimage which may now be reached more easily by using modern means of transport."I most likely would tell my students that too many times people who have a Madonna on their lawns are least likely to give you the time of day, let along more serious considerations. More than once when I tried to rent an apartment and told such homeowners that I have my elderly mother and mother-in-law with us, they refused to consider our application. Ex fructibus eorum cognoscetis eum.Perhaps I am being too cynical but what motivation should I give those who thought up this road (not to be confused with Rhodes) document? I will refrain from such narrow speculation.At any rate I am wondering whether this document will convince the bishops to attend my course. I will be the first to admit that we will be talking about a lot more than just road rage. This is definitely my life long fantasy. Just remind the bishops that I am not allowed to educate more than 40 of them at at time.

About the SUV question: can't see how it would be a sin if you actually _need_ an SUV. Do you need room for more than three carseats at one time? or a ramp and wheelchair tiedowns? Do you need to haul full sheets of drywall or bags of compost or such every day in your work? Do you live in the far rural area miles from the nearest paved road and need off-road capabilities? Then an SUV may be the best moral choice. But if all your SUV does is take the city streets to and from your office job, all by yourself...........

These commandments prompt a few questions:1) Why no injunction against seeking paradise by the dashboard lights, an activity that may cause one to pray for the end of time?2) Is speeding a mortal or venial sin, and should it now be confessed?3) Given the absence of any exhortation to use public transportation, can we assume that the Archbishop of Detroit had some hand in writing this document?4) Isn't the Interstate a dangerous place to receive communion (see II)?5) If we haven't felt responsible for others yet (see X), why should one think that we will start now?

Mr. Penalver, you asked if driving an SUV is a sin? Where I live, we still see windowless vans on the road. No signage. No ladders on top. No indications of their being used for utilitarian purposes, in other words. Many are faded white.Might they have a mattress for two within? Along with an adequate sound system? Perhaps equipped with an old plastic milk crate to hold beer and other goodies?Which reminds me. Years ago (when I was dumber), I approached a bend in a local park road. Pitch black outside. Car parked off to the side of the road. And I was 'a headin' straight toward it with my country lights turned on bright! And two pairs of eyes came up from below the window line. And they looked spooked!!!And I high-tailed it on around the bend!Youth can be so uncharitable --- and stupid.:)

But it was fun :)

Although the "commandments" contain some good advice, I fear the concept--the Vatican offering driving advice--will become fodder for late night talk show hosts.

William: I gather that you do not consider the following moral guidance to be worthy of a little ribbing?1) Don't kill someone with your car2) Be nice when driving3) Don't run anyone over4) Help people who are in accidents5) Don't drive will intoxicated6) Be responsibleWith all of the various pressing moral issues of our time, I guess we should consider this part of a gradual approach to regain some moral authority that might have been lost for a few reasons in recent years.

Thou shall not elevate thy middle finger, especially out thy window, except when it is followed immediately by the the thumb and index finger, so as to bless, or by the thumb and remaining fingers, so as to wave.

Joe--In my view, 99.9% of everything in life is worthy of at least a little ribbing, including the 10 [Automotive] Commandments.My point was that the Pope, the Vatican, the Church in general might be in for a little wincing when someone like David Letterman or Jay Leno starts in with lines such as, "Did you hear about the new set of 10 Commandments issued by the Catholic Church? Despite scandals involving clerical sex abuse and financial mismanagement--issues worthy of some new commandments--the Vatican has chosen to address a really pressing issue...driving." ;)

Of course, some blogs are also getting into the fun. Here's a decidedly mild comment from a blog called "Kicking Tires":"Aside from an occasional Popemobile replacement perhaps now with aftermarket kits to discourage unexpected hangers-on the Vatican isnt the first place we turn to for car news."At some other blogs, there are comments that the Pope was unaware of the release by Cardinal Martino, who is described as a "loose cannon."Finally, here's my favorite caption so far:"Vatican Issues 10 Commandments of Driving: No Vroom! Left at the Inn" (Completely nonsensical but catch nonetheless)

It was on ABC evening news and I am sure all other national channels. Naturally with the obligatory interview with some priest who trying to look solemn about it......

Well, I don't want to be uncharitable to the denizens of a sister state, infamous as they are for their driving habits, so I won't actually name it. But wouldn't it be great if the Franciscan cardinal who know runs things there could have these commandments read in all the churches within the Archdiocese of B****n?

Excellent question, Eduardo!I would draw everybody to the best essay on SUVs ever written: Gregg Easterbrooks "Axel of Evil" (TNR, 1/10/03). Reviewing a book by Keith Bradsher, Easterbrook focuses especially on the safety issues involved with SUVs. (see here for something I wrote on this a while back: http://reasons-and-opinions.blogspot.com/2006/08/are-suvs-really-evil.html).Here's a chilling fact: if a car hits another car in the side, the driver of the hit car is 6.6 times more likely to die than the hitting driver. If the hitter is an SUV, it rises to 30 to 1. Also, a pedestrian is twice as likely to die when hit by an SUV than a car.And why are SUVs so popular? According to market research by the manufacturers, SUV drivers tend to be "insecure and vain.... self-centered and self-absorbed, with little interest in their neighbors and communities". They also don't care about anybody's kids but their own, and are very concerned with their image. They are noted by their "willingness to endanger other motorists so as to achieve small improvements in their personal safety."So, sounds like the answer to your question might well be..... yes!

Perhaps it's an interesting commentary on the state of Catholic life in America today that people are asking straight-up whether driving an SUV is a sin, without even seeming to be aware that some families have lots of kids to tote around.

Whatever happened to minivans?

Notice the prefix "mini"? They're not always big enough, especially if you have multiple carseats.

I wonder if he should have left the commandments on Sinai, and issued the Beatitudes of driving???

At one point, my sister had 3 car seats in her minivan. Seemed to work well for her. One question, though, Stuart -- what percentage of SUV-owners have multiple car-seats in their vehicle (or, alternatively, use their SUV to, say, do work)?

Oh, the "mini"--completely missed it. Thanks a million. So, minivans seat seven, sometimes eight. How many does your typical SUV hold? And isn't it easier--much easier--to move carseats in and out of minivans?

Fair enough. In my experience, a minivan didn't work out very well, especially when we tried to go visit family, what with carseats, multiple diaper bags, luggage, books for the older kids to read, and a zillion other things that were stacked on every inch of floor space. No one could even get in the minivan without stepping on someone's blanket or pillow or bottle or juicebox. When we were finally able to unpack and dig to the bottom of everything, I'd find days-old bits of hamburger, banana peels (nasty), spilled juice, and similar stuff that had been dropped into the vast morass on the floor. Just not pleasant. What percentage of people have this concern? I have no idea. Probably not many. And I'd agree that it's ridiculous to see a single driver in a massive SUV commuting to a safe downtown job. I had to ride to lunch once with a guy who had bought a new Hummer for that purpose; he was so proud of his new car, and I had to swallow my tongue to keep from saying, "Isn't this excessive?" That said, it was just a bit surprising that on a Catholic blog, of all places, people would seem so unsympathetic or unfamiliar with the notion of having lots of kids.

Grant -- "And isn't it easier--much easier--to move carseats in and out of minivans?"No. What gives you this idea? And it's not even a question of moving them in and out; car seats generally stay put (except for the removable infant seats). The problem, for me, was that the minivan was considerably narrower than our current 1998 Suburban, and since car seats are inexorably going to take up a particular width along the seat, that left someone very scrunched in the middle. How many kids do you have anyway?

It strikes me, on rereading my own comments, that the written word often can come across as hostile where no hostility is intended. [Note to self: Use emoticons more often.]

Are you seriously suggesting that this thread has been "unsympathetic or unfamiliar with the notion of having lots of kids"? And your evidence for this is that some have questioned whether it's good to own an SUV (under certain circumstances)? That has to be a joke. You're not Catholic enough because you're not sufficiently friendly to that famous parenting helper, the SUV. That is rich.Here's what gives me the idea that minivans are easier to move carseats in and out of: physics. Or, if you'd prefer: the sliding door(s). Maybe you believe that we out-of-touch urbanites haven't set foot in one of those contraptions, but I have. In fact, I've put in and taken out my fair share of carseats over the years. (Most of those familes had babies and kids who needed more room, so their experience wasn't that the carseats stayed put--anything but.) Of course, a Suburban, which I've also had the pleasure of riding in, is not exactly an SUV. More like a truck with lots of seats. Oh, and, not that it matters, but I have forty-six children.

To move this conversation in another direction, may I say that I find this initiative commendable and hope it survives the bad jokes and quaintness it seems to inspire in some quarters? At least where I live, judging from the newspaper accounts and the mini-monuments next to more roads than I like there is a certain sort of driving that is a real "life" issue -- exemplified by the guy (with two two passengers in his vehicle no less) whose hormones couldn't stand the fact that two drivers in front of him had slowed down to leave adequate room for the sheriff's deputy heading toward them with lights and sirens on and pulled around them at high speed, thus killing the deputy and putting all three people in his car in the hospital.A couple of years ago I read that the small local town of Cottage Grove (population a little less than 10,000) had lost eight high school students killed in auto accidents in less than a year. Compared to which the number of times I get flipped the bird for driving only five miles over the speed limit is trivial.And I do believe that when the humor wears away this initiative will at least have had some good effect.

Whoever said there are no Catholics practicing polygamy? I'm not trying to pry, Grant, but do you have a second job? A third? A fourth? .... ;)

Yes, I think that Eduardo's original question -- "is driving an SUV a sin" -- wasn't limited to "certain circumstances" (as you erroneously suggest), and it should have at least acknowledged that some people might need a car with lots of seats and floor space. MM's response even more so: He answered the question yes, based in part on the accusation that SUV drivers are selfish for thinking about their own kids (again, not even a nod in the direction of families, Catholic or otherwise, who have several kids). Your point about "physics" is mystifying. But it's neither here nor there, because in my experience, car seats do tend to stay put for months or even a year or more --- until the kid graduates to a booster seat, or until some intrepid soul decides to give the car a thorough vacuuming. And this point was also mystifying: "Of course, a Suburban, which I've also had the pleasure of riding in, is not exactly an SUV. More like a truck with lots of seats."Why are you saying that a Suburban is not an SUV? Are you trying to suggest that I'm off the hook because a Suburban is somehow different from other SUVs? I don't get it. While we're at it, maybe it's equally a sin for anyone to drive a car that is an inch larger than they absolutely need. So if you buy one of these http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Toyota_Prius_side.jpg when you could really scrape by with one of these, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Fiat_500.jpg , that's a sin. :)

Stuart,My response was tongue-in-cheek; I think I have the same issues with tone as you :)But seriously, the quote is the market reseach conducted by the peddlers of SUVs. They know their market. And, by the way, I don't think it's acceptable to put everybody's health at risk on the roads because you need to travel like a military compound just to move kids around. And I say the same thing to my friends with kids, by the way.

SUVs and minivans?? You people must live in pretty toney suburbs is all I can say.Here in rural Michigan, you drive a Ford or Dodge pick-up. Preferably with one of those silhouettes of the kid peeing on something.The baby carriers get wedged on the jump seats. When the kids are old enough to duck when the sheriff drives by (failing to secure the kids with a seatbelt is a $100 fine), they ride in the bed with the hay bales, groceries and dogs. There's usually no mess to clean up because the kids heave uneaten food and empties at the squirrels and woodchucks by the side of the road. If there is a mess, you just hose down the truck bed at the drive in car wash. There are usually at least three kids in the bed, though you can pack in up to six if there's a light load to carry.I'm hardly exaggerating.

I don't think it's acceptable to put everybody's health at risk on the roads because you need to travel like a military compound just to move kids around. And I say the same thing to my friends with kids, by the way. Your *friends* with kids, I note. Talk to me when you have 5 or 6 of your own, and have to travel cross-country for 15 hours to see grandparents. :)Also, be careful with the attribution of general risk statistics to any individual person. Lots of people fall on the lower tail of the bell curve, you know. Such as me: I've been driving since I was 14, and have never had an accident.

Stuart,I'm not blessed with as many children as you seem to be, and I hate to comment on other parents' circumstances with minimal knowledge of them, but have you tried taking the train to visit the grandparents?My kids were probably unusual in enjoying a cross-country trip, but, if the Amtrak cost structure is manageable, 1500 miles might be fun.

Stuart: you shouldn't be mystified. It's easier to move awkward objects through larger spaces rather than smaller ones. Since I'm not in this for the gotcha of it, I don't care whether you're off the hook. But don't you wonder how your parents' generation managed without three rows of seats?

The second part of this document -- the first part ,"Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road, contains these road commandments -- is called "Pastoral Care for the Liberation of Women on the Street." It's not about seeking false freedom by driving Ford Expeditions, but about women who "live in the street and are of the street," involved in prostitution and trafficking. There are further sections on the pastoral care of "street children" and the homeless. The document was issued by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, which Paul VI set up in a 1970 Motu Proprio called Apostolicae Caritatis. The Vatican is an interesting place.Here is a link to the whole document:http://www.catholic.org/featured/headline.php?ID=4524

"It's easier to move awkward objects through larger spaces rather than smaller ones." I can't even conceive of a car seat that is so big that it would have trouble fitting through an SUV door. The *only* thing that is at all difficult about installing a car seat is getting the various belts adjusted, and that's just as hard in a minivan as in anything else. "But don't you wonder how your parents' generation managed without three rows of seats?"If I recall, they often packed kids into situations that would technically be illegal today (here, state law mandates the use of car seats until age 7 or 50 pounds, I think). Anyway, so what? Go back a little further, and people managed without having cars at all. What does this have to do with the choices people face today? More importantly, why are you so resistant to making the minimal acknowledgment that a handful of large families might need the extra space?

By the way, I never suggested that you're an "out-of-touch urbanite[]." I have no idea where you live.

I concur with the point about the changes in what's acceptable in terms of children in cars -- I shudder a little when I think of what our children rode in twenty-five years ago vis-a-vis what's legally (and socially) mandatory nowadays, and what we had was infinitely safer than what I saw my younger siblings riding in twenty-five years before that.What I'm really curious about is how an SUV compares to the station wagons my mother affected.

"Yes, I think that Eduardo's original question -- "is driving an SUV a sin" -- wasn't limited to "certain circumstances" (as you erroneously suggest), and it should have at least acknowledged that some people might need a car with lots of seats and floor space."Stuart -- the point of a question was to bring these things out, not to establish precisely when and where I think SUV driving is appropriate. I hardly think posing the question in such an open-ended way can express a lack of sympathy for people with kids (or people who use an SUV to haul their horse trailer, for that matter), since I didn't say anything about the merits at all. And other people in the thread made the point you are about the proper uses of SUVs. So I think you're barking up the wrong tree with this line of attack. (What is it with you, by the way, about always going on the attack? Can't we just have a conversation without you hurling some sort of an accusation?)For what it's worth, I actually own and drive a small SUV (Ford Escape Hybrid). I bought it because I live on a gravel road in the middle of nowhere that is only 4WD accessible during the winter and because the FEH gets better gas mileage (36 city/30 hwy) than comparably equipped 4WD sedans.

Oh, for Pete's sake, Stuart, you don't know Commonweal is published in New York. Do you even read the magazine? Or have you ever?I didn't suggest there were such things as carseats that could fit only through minivan sliding doors. Don't be ridiculous. I said it's easier to maneuver them through wider spaces--because it is, and that you seem unwilling to acknowledge that is frankly bizarre. Almost as bizarre as the turn this thread took when you illogically posited that those who have reservations about SUVs are somehow unfriendly to large families. You're arguing against an absurdity (who suggested you shouldn't use a car at all?), which, I realize, can be wonderfully convenient, but in this case happens not to grip reality.

FWIW I find one Stuart Buck observation, here as elsewhere, to be easily worth about five others. The belligerence displayed toward his comments is puzzling.

Grant -- Admittedly, the written word is often harsher than might be intended. Nonetheless, I don't intend any hostility here, as I've made clear. But given the tone of your comments, I wonder if you might be able to say the same? "Oh, for Pete's sake, Stuart, you don't know Commonweal is published in New York. "Not until just now. Indeed, I subscribe to about twenty magazines and scholarly journals, and I couldn't for the life of me tell you where any of them are published. For that matter, editing a magazine is hardly a location-bound job -- you could be anywhere, for all I know. All of which is to say, there's really no need to be so testy about imaginary insults toward urbanites. ;)"I said it's easier to maneuver them through wider spaces--because it is, and that you seem unwilling to acknowledge that is frankly bizarre. "Just estimating the widths here, but they're pretty close: if I have a car seat that is 1.5 feet wide, and the SUV door opens to a width of 3 feet, and a minivan door opens to a width of 3.5 feet, there is simply NO appreciable difference in the ease of installing car seats. There just isn't. Anyway, why do you think that this is a point worth pounding into the ground? What do you hope to gain, even if I admitted that having a minivan would make it marginally easier to install a car seat about once or twice a year? "you illogically posited that those who have reservations about SUVs are somehow unfriendly to large families."I didn't posit anything about "those who have reservations about SUVs." I MYSELF have a great deal of contempt for most SUVs, as you can see by reading my previous comment. I was mainly reacting to someone who said (in a comment that I now know to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek) that driving an SUV is a selfish sin, without acknowledging the fact that some families need lots of space, every bit as legitimately as a family with one child might buy a four-door sedan rather than cramming all three people plus any luggage into a two-seater convertible. Again, I'll grant you the opposition to about 95% of SUVs. Can you bring yourself to admit that large families might occasionally need an SUV?

Eduardo:"What is it with you, by the way, about always going on the attack? Can't we just have a conversation without you hurling some sort of an accusation?"With all due respect, I entered this "conversation" only because the post itself, and especially certain comments, seemed to be an unqualified "accusation" of sin.

"I wonder if you might be able to say the same? "and "Again, I'll grant you the opposition to about 95% of SUVs. Can you bring yourself to admit that large families might occasionally need an SUV? "So, is your answer to either or both questions "no"? By the way, if you answer the latter question "no," then it would indeed present an image of someone who is "unfriendly to large families." Maybe it's better to remain silent.

Those questions are addressed to Mr. Gallicho.

I don't know if I can use the word "need" there, so not yet. I'm open to persuasion, though. I remain surprised that a lawyer doesn't see that he's making an enormous leap of logic to claim that my position entails an unfriendliness to large families. That simply doesn't follow. No, my responses to you haven't been hostile. I have however been frustrated by many of your contributions. Perhaps you don't intend it, but in the dotCommonweal comment boxes you have a tendency to put people on the defensive. You did it again in your comment last night, which evinced your own frustration that I hadn't yet replied to your cross-examination of me. "Maybe it's better to remain silent." What do you think that adds? Anything of value? Or is it just an attempt to score cheap rhetorical points? Often it seems as though you view conversation as a contest (you're constantly "granting" this or trying to get an interlocutor to "grant" that). It's not a tug of war.

"I remain surprised that a lawyer doesn't see that he's making an enormous leap of logic to claim that my position entails an unfriendliness to large families."Not "entail" -- it's just suggestive. I've laid out what seem (to me) to be very good reasons for having a larger car. See my posts of 2:56 pm and 3:02 pm. You ignored those reasons, and instead kept insisting that it might be easier to install car seats in a minivan -- a claim that is just not true in my experience and that isn't relevant anyway, given how rarely I have to install carseats. So yes, when someone ignores the multiple reasons that I've put forth, and instead tries to focus on what seems to me a completely spurious objection, I wonder whether that person is really taking the concerns of large families seriously. "Perhaps you don't intend it, but in the dotCommonweal comment boxes you have a tendency to put people on the defensive. " OK, you've got a point. But as I've said, in this case it was because the post itself and especially a comment or two put ME on the defensive in the first place, by leveling an accusation of sin. Given that this accusation (or question) was unqualified, it seemed to include me in its sweep. Imagine, for a moment, whether you would feel defensive if someone suggested, without qualification, that it's a sin to vote for a Democrat. And if you objected that this was too broad, you were accused of putting people on the defensive. Not a perfect analogy, of course, but the point is to imagine how you would react when implicitly targeted by what you believe to be an erroneous accusation of sin. "Maybe it's better to remain silent."You're right -- that was catty. Apologies.

Stuart says: "With all due respect, I entered this "conversation" only because the post itself, and especially certain comments, seemed to be an unqualified "accusation" of sin."Stuart, can you point to the "unqualified 'accusation' of sin" in the original post, which was almost exclusively quoted material, followed by a question posed for discussion?

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About the Author

Eduardo Moisés Peñalver is the John P. Wilson Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the subjects of property and land use law.