It was in mid-September of 2019 that I wrote a Herald of Hope article for the Catholic Herald entitled “Driving Safely is a Pro-Life Issue.” This article was followed shortly by a homily on this topic, which I preached on the first Sunday of October, the beginning of the Catholic Church’s commemoration of Respect Life Month. Both presentations were prompted by my personal observations of the worsening conditions impairing safe travel. I had seen far too many instances of dangers like excessive speeding, tailgating, weaving in and out of traffic, street racing, running red lights and passing taking place in bicycle or curb lanes.
Little did I know that the situation only would grow more ominous, as reports of problems on our roadways reached a perilous peak at the beginning of the Pandemic in the spring of 2020. The shut-down of many businesses, schools and recreational activities precipitated a significant drop in the number of cars on the roadways, and this seemed to embolden a great many risky and aggressive drivers to ramp up the pace of travel, turning streets and highways into race tracks and drag strips. This caused a massive multiplication of severe and fatal accidents. Sadly, my worst fears had become a nightmare, leading me to the daily offering of prayers and intercessions to the Lord, pleading for some way to rein in what was becoming nothing short of a social catastrophe.
Thankfully, answers to my prayers began to appear, as conscientious and caring persons and organizations rose up to face the challenge. Community groups — like the Sherman Park Reckless Driving Committee and the Coalition for Safe Driving MKE — began to make plans to address the problem of reckless driving in the neighborhoods. Moreover, local law enforcement, including the Milwaukee Police Department and the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office, responded with new initiatives to clamp down on the most grievous offenders. In fact, the Milwaukee Police Department formed a Traffic Safety Unit, which launched a determined effort to cite drivers for excessive speeding. The department also created a new policy of towing unregistered vehicles used in four different types of irresponsible incidents: endangering safety by driving recklessly, racing on the highway, fleeing a police officer and speeding 25 miles per hour over the posted limit.
And, recently, an alliance of more than a dozen community entities — including the mayor’s office, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and WTMJ Television 4 — have joined forces to educate drivers about the rules of the road, report on the enforcement happening by both police and the courts, and explore new ways to engineer our roads to see what can be done to make the streets safer. This new effort is called “Project: Drive Safer.”
While I am immensely grateful for these new forms of outreach regarding the matter of safer travel, I would like to suggest that there is a need for individual drivers to play a more pronounced role in helping to create a climate of more cautious and careful behavior. Granted, public programs like “Project: Drive Safer” are vital and can serve to lessen the more disastrous problems we are facing, particularly in the most precarious of places. But it is only an inclusive participation of regular drivers consistently practicing prudent and responsible operation of their vehicles that can help create an environment comprehensive enough to encompass the greater breadth of our roadways.
It is in the light of this more inclusive and broader participation that I would like to make a personal pledge to become even more attentive to the following safe-driving habits:
- I plan to drive with an abundance of caution as I approach traffic lights — especially utilizing the yellow light to be ever more vigilant, preferring to execute a safe stop rather than to race through the intersection.
- In addition to remembering to enable my turn signals to indicate a change of lane, I will do more than make a quick glance in a mirror but make a determined effort to examine and thus eliminate blind spots.
- I will carefully monitor my speed — most importantly in situations of inclement weather and in the midst of construction zones.
- I plan to keep better track of the time and leave earlier to reach my destination safely, thus avoiding the temptation to increase my speed of travel to avoid being late.
- Before I begin to drive, I will turn off my cell phone.
- I will adopt a more serene and peaceful spirit as I am dealing with traffic — even to the point of saying a prayer for bothersome and intrusive drivers rather than becoming angry at them.
I graciously would like to encourage others to join me in creating your own pledge list of safe-driving habits. The more of us who join together in participating in the careful operation of our automobiles, the greater chance we have of not only promoting better etiquette on the roadways but protecting other passengers and pedestrians, and thus contributing to building a culture of respect for life.