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The 'virtues'
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placeholder September 5, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 15   •   Oakland, CA
Letters from Readers

Drivers may need Temperance to avoid any anger or negative emotions toward bicyclists.
Courtesy Photo

The 'virtues' of safe driving

In late 2014, California Vehicle Code section 21760 went into effect as state law. It requires motorists to maintain a distance of three feet when overtaking and passing a cyclist.

In the busy Bay Area this can be a tight squeeze, especially on two-lane roads with no bicycle lanes. So what are we to do in these situations?

The Pope Francis Legal Clinic recommends the use of the virtues in fulfilling our driver duties under the law. The law states: "That if a driver cannot safely maintain the 3 feet distance between his or her vehicle in passing or overtaking a cycle then the driver shall slow to a speed that is reasonable and prudent and may pass only when doing so would not endanger the safety of the bicycle, taking into account the size and speed of the motor vehicle and bicycle, traffic conditions, weather, visibility and surface and the width of the highway." (CVC section 21760 subsections c and d.)

The law suggests the use of Prudence in balancing all these factors. The Church would agree and chime in with, "How else can it be done?" Certainly, not very well without the virtue of Prudence!

Plus, drivers may need Temperance to avoid any anger or negative emotions, such as "road rage" while driving. The Virtues are there to help us. We should be quick to ask Almighty God to put them at our disposal and at the disposal of our family members who have to drive in these situations.

Historians tell us the four Cardinal virtues of Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Fortitude are as old as the Greeks and predate the Christian era. Theologians say that these virtues can be made even more powerful and useful when infused with the theological virtue of Charity (one of three theological virtues) — kind of like putting the virtues "on steroids."

Pope Francis, if he were to weigh in on this statute, would no doubt remind us that Mercy should also inform our driving decisions. Mercy to get us to slow down and let the other guy go first. The pope of course would be right! The formula of fulfilling our duties under this new law is, first of all, to apply the virtues and then to rely upon Mercy. This is a good plan.

Finally, we must acknowledge the virtues of Faith and Hope because without them we probably won't have the courage and trust even to get in our car and take on these increasing legal obligations.

(Thomas P. Greerty, KM, is director of the Pope Francis Legal Clinic at the Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland. He is a licensed attorney and recently graduated with a masters degree in Theological Studies from the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, Berkeley.)

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