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Sense & Sensibility

Confessions of a Morning Driver

October 5, 2009
By Kathleen Felong

Kathy Felong Kathy Felong

I have a little confession. Sometimes when I am driving to work in the morning, I do not feel charitable. That’s especially true when I leave 10 minutes late and race bumper-to-bumper with other uncharitable drivers.

I become whiny.

I don’t want to deal with humanity at all, let alone the humanity that inhabits morning rush hour. (The only exception is the drive-thru guy at my local Tim Horton’s coffee shop, whom I love unconditionally before 8 a.m.)

The result behind the wheel is a temptation toward vile looks (mine) and salty talk (also mine). And the occasional honk.

Intellectually, I should know better. A few years ago we did a story on road rage in the ERIE Customer magazine. It included an interview with traffic psychologist Leon James, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Hawaii. James is known in media expert circles as “Dr. Driving.” He and his wife, Diane Nahl, Ph.D., are authors of Road Rage and Aggressive Driving.

The article included a driving etiquette test. Readers could rate themselves according to a list of behaviors they admitted to engaging in. They ranged from “mentally condemn other drivers” to “kill someone.”

My own results stopped short of step 10—“make obscene gesture”—but still landed me in “The Violent Zone” by virtue of the occasional (and well-deserved) honk. Based on the study of hundreds of drivers, James said the majority got as far as step 13—“get out of the car and engage in a verbal dispute.” (Find out your own zone here.)

Since then, I have been a bit more aware of my driving disposition. I try to remember the article’s prescription to act in a way that benefits the flow of traffic. But I am not redeemed by any sense of the word. I exhibit what the good doctors would call an “inner resistance to change.”

I have come to realize this is probably one of those lessons you have to keep learning. That’s why I was intrigued recently by a quirky reminder of road rules from
a surprising source: The Vatican.

Within the document called “2007 Guidelines for Pastoral Care of the Road” is a little gem called The Drivers’ Ten Commandments.

Whether your connection to the original “Ten” is via Moses or Charleton Heston—or both—the rules make pretty good sense:

  • The road shall be for you a means of communion between people and not of mortal harm. (No. 2)
  • Feel responsible toward others. (No. 10)
  • And No. 1: You shall not kill.

“Pride yourselves in being able to master an often natural impatience,” the document quotes 1956’s Pope Pius XII. “Not only will you thus be able to avoid unpleasant accidents, but you will also help make the car a more useful tool…capable of
giving you a more genuine pleasure.”

Who wouldn’t say “Amen” to that?


Kathy Felong is a former award-winning reporter and columnist and one of the editors of Eriesense. She lives in Erie, Pa., with her husband and college-age kids. E-mail her at eriesense@erieinsurance.com.

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