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You, the pope and the highway to heaven

In the 1970 song “Roadhouse Blues,” Jim Morrison and the Doors summed it up with one sentence: “Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel.” In 2007, it took the Pope Benedict XVI 58 pages to say pretty much the same thing.
Duane Hoffmann /

In the 1970 song “Roadhouse Blues,” Jim Morrison and the Doors summed it up with one sentence: “Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel.”

In 2007, it took the Pope Benedict XVI 58 pages to say pretty much the same thing.

It’s bad enough when a parent, in-law or friend starts bugging you about the way you drive. Now the pope is piping up as the all-knowing back-seat driver, full of advice on how we can all be well-mannered when out on the road.

What brought this on?

Maybe the pope was fretting about the kickoff of the peak summer driving season and the safety of the more than 4 million Americans who were about to hit the highways for July 4th celebrations. Who can blame him? According to the folks at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, July 3rd and 4th is when U.S. highway fatalities traditionally peak. But because the holiday fell midweek this year and there are two July 4th holiday weekends, those statistics may soar.

Or maybe the pontiff was mulling over the annual highway death statistics. In 2005, for example, there were 43,000 traffic crash fatalities in the United States and more than 1.2 million road-related deaths worldwide.

Eyes on the road
Even more alarming is the fact that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) believes that 80 percent of all crashes and more than 60 percent of near-crashes in this country take place when a driver looks away from the road for a few seconds to — you guessed it — do something like talk on a cell phone, look around for their cell phone, check directions, send or read a text message, eat, yell at the kids in the back seat, apply make-up or attempt something totally unrelated to driving.

Maybe the pope was reading the recent poll that ranked Miami, New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C as the U.S. cities with the rudest drivers or perhaps he was just finally letting off some pent-up pontiff steam in reaction to the fact that on June 6, while the pope was out for a whirl in his white, convertible popemobile, an ill-mannered, uninvited pedestrian tried to jump aboard.

Whatever the reason, on June 16th the Vatican issued the pope’s “Guidelines for Pastoral Care of the Road” and posted it on the Vatican’s . Yes, the Vatican has a Web site.

The guidelines mention biblical road trips taken by the apostles and those Mary and Joseph took before the birth of Jesus, and offer tips on how modern-day travelers might try to get along out on the highway. So far, most news outlets have focused on the handy “Drivers’ Ten Commandments” section. The clip-and-save-style list of rules kicks off with the all-purpose “You shall not kill” and continues on with straightforward tips much like those your grandma or the folks at the local AAA office would offer, including instructions to “charitably convince the young and not-so-young not to drive when they are not in a fitting condition to do so,” which I think translates to “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk” and “Respect but don’t hesitate to verify thy father and mother’s driving ability.”

Click and Clack weigh in
Late-night talk show hosts and public radio’s Car Guys had a field day with the pope’s Top Ten.  I especially enjoyed the Tappet Brothers’ list of “extra” commandments, which range from “Thou shalt never combine convertibles and comb-overs” to “Thou shalt not take thy rental car to Mexico” and "Blessed are the Prii, for they shall inherit the earth.” You can

But beyond the Drivers’ Ten Commandments, the Vatican’s rules for road users are even more entertaining and enlightening. In the “Moral Aspects of Driving”section, for example, we’re reminded that “motorists are never alone when they are driving, even when no one is sitting beside them.” Try that one on the officer who pulls you over next time you’re driving solo in the carpool lane and let me know what happens.

Pope your ride
The pope would like everyone to chill out, slow down and stop showing off with those fancy cars. And for, um, God’s sake, make sure your car gets “periodic technical check-ups” and don’t expect “more from it than it is able to give.”  The guidelines say that “Road users should not drive too fast” and that “traveling companions should also be aware of their responsibility.” Back-seat drivers take note.

The Guidelines for Pastoral Care of the Road also counsel drivers to say a little prayer before setting out on the road or while on the road. They also suggest that “Good drivers courteously give way to pedestrians.”

Too bad someone didn’t give both tips to the driver who struck and killed Don Brown back in 1975 while he was crossing a street near his hometown of Stevenson, Wash. Brown, a prodigious collector of rosaries, had one special model designed to be strapped to the steering wheel of a car so that a driver could easily pray while, as the song goes, keeping their eyes on the road and their hands upon the wheel.

By the way, that steering-wheel rosary is now one of 4,000 rosaries in the housed at the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum in Stevenson, Wash.