An unusual document from the Vatican's office for migrants and itinerant people also warned that automobiles can be "an occasion of sin" — particularly when used to make a dangerous overtaking maneuver or when used by prostitutes and their clients.
It warned about the effects of road rage, saying driving can bring out "primitive" behavior in motorists, including "impoliteness, rude gestures, cursing, blasphemy, loss of sense of responsibility or deliberate infringement of the highway code."
Cardinal Renato Martino, who heads the office, told a news conference that the Vatican felt it necessary to address the pastoral needs of motorists because driving had become such a big part of contemporary life. He cited World Health Organization statistics that said an estimated 1.2 million people are killed in road crashes each year and as many as 50 million are injured.
"That's a sad reality, and at the same time, a great challenge for society and the church," he said.
He noted that the Bible was full of people on the move, including Mary and Joseph, the parents of Jesus — and that his office is tasked with dealing with all "itinerant" people on the roads — from refugees to prostitutes, truck drivers and the homeless.
The document, "Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road," extols the benefits of driving — family outings, getting the sick to the hospital, allowing people to get to work and see other cultures.
But it laments a host of ills associated with automobiles: Drivers use their cars to show off; driving "provides an easy opportunity to dominate others" by speeding; and drivers can kill themselves and others if they don't get their cars regular tune-ups, if they drink, use drugs or fall asleep at the wheel.
It also pointed the finger at traffic problems particular to Italy, including the "minicars" that teens can drive without full drivers' licenses and "the reckless use of motorbikes and motorcycles."
It called for drivers to obey speed limits and to exercise a host of Christian virtues: charity to fellow drivers, prudence on the roads, hope of arriving safely and justice in the event of crashes.
And it suggested prayer might come in handy — performing the sign of the cross before starting off and saying the Rosary along the way. The Rosary was particularly well-suited to recitation by all in the car since its "rhythm and gentle repetition does not distract the driver's attention."
Martino's initiative was sure to make headlines in Italy, where car culture is deeply entrenched — this is the home of Ferrari and Fiat — and where weekend highway deaths make the evening news on a regular basis.