The Vatican's "Ten Commandments" for drivers is pretty unusual. And
while it will no doubt be fodder for late-night TV, it has some good
messages about being careful. The commandments, predictably enough,
also warn that a car can be an "occasion of sin," and I don't think
they are referring to rolling through stop signs. But for the most
part, the directive is meant to encourage safer driving. For
instance, drinking and driving is a no-no. And road rage is sinful.
This is good. Perhaps even progressive.
The document stresses guidelines for keeping yourself and others safe
in a car, noting that the World Health Organization estimates that
1.2 million people are killed on the road each year and as many as 50
million injured. "This is a sad reality, and at the same time, a
great challenge for society and the church," said Cardinal Renato
Martino when handing down the ten commandments.
Yet while there is some vague language about safety, there is no
direct mention of seat belts in these commandments. "Thou Shalt Not
Drive Unless You and Your Passengers Are Buckled Up" would seem to
make a lot of sense. How can you advise people on how to be safe
while driving or being driven without emphasizing that seat belts save
lives? Just ask Matt Lauerhow neglecting
safety in this way undermines one's moral authority.
Not mentioning seat belts is like offering advice on how to prevent
lung cancer and not mentioning avoidance of cigarette smoking. But
maybe we shouldn't be surprised. The Vatican has fallen short in the
past. Despite the no longer controversial fact that smoking kills --
and the Catholic Church's emphasis on promoting a culture of life --
the Vatican has failed to ban the slow but suicidal act of smoking.
The Vatican has long resisted making a flat-out statement that
smoking is uniquely dangerous or suggesting that smoking clearly has
moral implications, although Church documents now hint that a change
may be in the works.
I'm Jewish, so far be it from me to tell the Catholic Church how its
followers should live. But a leading Rabbinic authority has said that
smoking is worse than eating a ham sandwich,
and he didn't just mean by health standards.
The Catholic Church has historically picked up on some Jewish ideas
and run with them. So maybe here they'll buckle down and tell their
followers to buckle up.
Jeff Stier is an associate director of the American Council on
Science and Health