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Forgive me, Father, for I have tailgated

The Vatican asks drivers to follow its new road rules, but not all L.A. motorists are believers.

June 21, 2007|Bob Pool and Tami Abdollah | Times Staff Writers

In a city that worships the automobile, it may take divine intervention to get motorists to live by the Vatican's new Ten Commandments for drivers.

That was the view of motorists as they contemplated "Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road" -- and whether it was faster Wednesday morning taking the 5 or the 101 between the San Fernando Valley and downtown.

The new road rules call for "courtesy, uprightness and prudence" and condemns the use of cars as "an expression of power and domination" or for sinful purposes.

But while some drivers acknowledged they pray that they'll find a parking space, they wondered if Vatican guidelines are really the solution to stopping that black Hummer from tailgating on the Santa Monica Freeway.

This week, the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers issued commandments, along with a suggestion that drivers perform the sign of the cross before switching on the ignition. It also recommended reciting the Catholic rosary, whose "rhythm and gentle repetition does not distract the driver's attention," as the council put it.

Roadways "shall be for you a means of communion between people and not of mortal harm," states the second commandment.

"Is it a joke? It should be a little more clear, like 'Don't drive drunk' or 'Don't be a jerk.' " said Tricia Burwell, a clothing designer from Hancock Park after reading the commandments. "These don't really say anything. If you're going to make a statement, make it."

New driver Jeff Sobel, a 17-year-old Encino resident who was waiting outside Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church to meet friends for a trip to Magic Mountain, shook his head. "The lousy drivers will still be lousy divers. I don't think anything like this will help."

But inside the Encino church, Father Austin Doran was planning to incorporate the commandments in an upcoming sermon. He cited the importance of the third commandment's call for courtesy and uprightness.

"It's not dramatic, but courtesy goes an awfully long way," Doran said, noting that a parishioner was killed several years ago near the church by an impatient driver. "We're all on the road together. That should bind us together rather than pit us against one another."

Though many of the roadway commandments are very basic -- don't kill, don't drive when you're not fit to be behind the wheel, help accident victims -- others are more esoteric.

"My favorite is the second commandment, the road being a means of communion. It's idealistic, isn't it?" said Julio Perez, a Silver Lake video editor. "It's OK for the church to state its opinions, but in a practical sense it should be up to the DMV to set the rules."

Dawn Ubovich, a Mt. San Antonio College student from Walnut, also wondered about the church's role.

"I don't think people should have to have the Catholic religion to come up with a list of driving etiquette," Ubovich said.

Motorists' use of the rosary was questioned by several drivers Wednesday.

"Isn't that more disruptive than using your cellphone?" asked Stephanie Rubenstein, a teacher from Hollywood.

Chris Halpin, a Hollywood lighting technician who was raised Catholic, wondered about that, too. "You know how people do the thing with the beads? So you've got one hand off the wheel doing your rosary. That might be distracting," he said.

But Joey Gavar of West Hollywood and her sister, Jennifer Grefenkamp of Germany, praised the commandments.

"This is something very practical coming from the Vatican. They're really talking about what's happening in everyday living," Gavar said.

Grefenkamp, who will end a three-month Los Angeles visit Saturday, said she was sideswiped by a hit-and-run driver last weekend while crossing Hollywood Boulevard. So she related personally to several of the commandments, she said.

Dean "Chubby" Baker, a Burbank electronics fabricator who rides a Harley-Davidson and said he is familiar with the original Ten Commandments, agreed that the streets of L.A. can be mean.

"They crucify me, just like Jesus," for riding a motorcycle, he complained.

Victor Gonzalez, a retired window washer, said he planned to soon return to his native El Salvador to escape Los Angeles' traffic woes. He predicted drivers here will be in too much of a rush to read and heed the new commandments.

"I went around the block 10 times to find a spot and then had to put in 10 quarters to park an hour," he railed. L.A.'s "too busy, too crowded."

Tow truck driver Henry Vasquez of South Gate concurred that the commandments will likely be ignored by those who most need to commit them to heart.

"Not paying attention to the road is the No. 1 factor in the accidents I see," said Vasquez, who has worked for five years in the downtown area. "And I don't think that bad drivers will pay attention to these rules."

Mimi Trieu, a Los Angeles sales merchandiser, wondered how the commandments would be enforced.

So did Hollywood television production worker Michael Carreo.

"What happens if people break these commandments? Nothing?" he asked.

Maybe those answers will have to come from a higher authority.

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bob.pool@latimes.com

tami.abdollah@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Rules of the road

Here are the Ten Commandments for driving released by the Vatican:

1. You shall not kill.

2. The road shall be for you a means of communion between people and not of mortal harm.

3. Courtesy, uprightness and prudence will help you deal with unforeseen events.

4. Be charitable and help your neighbor in need, especially victims of accidents.

5. Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin.

6. Charitably convince the young and not so young not to drive when they are not in a fitting condition to do so.

7. Support the families of accident victims.

8. Bring guilty motorists and their victims together, at the appropriate time, so that they can undergo the liberating experience of forgiveness.

9. On the road, protect the more vulnerable party.

10. Feel responsible toward others.

Source: Associated Press

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