Letter from Bishop Fintan Monahan regarding safety on our roads
“We must all share a portion of blame for each road accident”
It is the dream of many young people to pass their driving test and gain the freedom of lawfully driving on our road network. In recent times, this dream has been thwarted and replaced with the feeling of impatience amongst young people due to the length of time it can take to be allocated a slot to undergo a driving test. One of the defining characteristics of adulthood is to develop the skill to manage impatience. Indeed, patience and courtesy on our roads are essential driver-safety skills.
Unquestioningly, success at a theory and practice test is a big moment for every new driver. We all shared that euphoric feeling of acknowledgement that we had finally ‘arrived’ into adulthood. Young drivers in particular feel they have invested a lot in their driving licence, and while this is true, unfortunately it does not signal the end of learning. Experience is the greatest teacher of all and that will only come in time. The driving test is merely an entry point and it does not guarantee safety on the road – safety is something one learns through careful practice over time.
Older drivers are not exempt from bad driving habits, which tend to become ingrained with the passage of years. So, for those of us who have previously passed their test, I invite you to take the following refresher three-question test below. Sadly, for some, a collision on the road can end or irreparably damage a young life, or that of others. All of us feel the deep pang of pain when we hear of a young life, with all of its wonderful potential, being destroyed in seconds in a vehicle-related accident. The depth and breadth of each tragedy resonates further to violate forever the lives of loving parents, siblings, relations, friends, neighbours, school/college companions, and that of the wider community. As we are all road-users, when hearing of an accident – whether as a pedestrian, cyclist, motor-biker, car, bus, lorry or tractor driver – some may immediately reflect: ‘There but for the grace of God go I?’ We are all vulnerable and this reaction is a natural expression of humility and reliance on God’s grace. It is, of course, also an instinctive recognition that road accident statistics are first-and-foremost about people, not just raw data. Others may feel, somewhat arrogantly, that a collision ‘will never happen to me’ – ‘it is an unfortunate occurrence that happens to others, not to me’. This latter mind-set is so flawed that it might be called out as no more than an accident waiting to happen!
Following our immediate reaction to the heart-breaking news of a serious road accident, our analysis may move on to where to apportion blame. The so called ‘blame game’ is a futile exercise if we do not take our own particular share in the blame for all accidents. Yes, our collective responsibility. Our taking a share of blame arising from a collision that we are not I nvolved in may seem to be an outrageous statement, but this represents our shared reality. It points to the core of all good driving habits, namely personal responsibility. It is about you and me, as individual drivers and our standard of road safety that we practice. In this context, I invite you to put your own driving to a test and answer three relevant road-use questions derived from the parable of the Good Samaritan:
Am I a considerate and careful road user?
Do I actively and regularly think about other road users?
Do I follow up to ensure a high standard of road use that serves the common good?
Road collisions are not confined to young people alone, but they involve all age groups from children right through to the elderly. All ages of people are represented in the annual statistics of road fatalities. In our compassion we are moved to accept that one death on the road is one death too many. While there are many factors that contribute to death on our roads – speed, carelessness, poor conditions, inexperience, alcohol/drug consumption and driver-distraction – a main factor is over-confidence, more traditionally referred to as ‘bravado’, and this finding is reflected by evidential research.
According to the latest figures published by the Central Statistics Office*, young males (aged 18 – 24 years old) had the highest collision rate of that age cohort, while females aged 55-64 years had the lowest collision rate. So, what can each of us do to help avoid the loss of life on our roads – a loss that is so, so unnecessary? We can offer the victims and the bereaved our support through sympathy, solidarity and crucially with our prayers. We can also check our own driving behaviour on a daily basis.
People often ask me about prayers to say before embarking on a journey. There are many such prayers and none as easy as “Jesus help me drive carefully and bring me safely to my journey’s end.” Equally as important is our behaviour when we are driving a vehicle, or using a road in any capacity. When we practice attentiveness and vigilance at all times we show respect for God and all of humanity. Exercising vigilance and attentiveness is a practical form of prayer. Drive safely and arrive safely.
Fintan Monahan – Bishop of Killaloe
Holy Mother, hear our prayer,
Keep us in your loving care,
Whatever the perils of the way,
Let us not add to them this day.
So to our caution and attention,
We add a prayer for your protection,
To beg God’s blessing on this car,
To travel safely near and far. Amen.