Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Light One Candle
Slow down – it’s a better way to drive

by Dennis Heaney

(From the May 3, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Dennis Heaney About 10 years ago my friend, Mert, told me he was going to change his driving habits. Mert had the proverbial lead foot, so he figured that driving slower would reduce his stress level as well as his gasoline consumption. I also knew he was motivated by the number of speeding tickets he had collected and the resulting increase in his insurance rates.

As he got into his new driving habits Mert became a believer. He would tell me about how much less stress he felt when driving slower, and how doing so had no real impact on his schedule. He said that he left home about the same time and that even while driving more slowly he got to work about the same time, too.

The “slower Mert” was not an effortless change. Old habits die hard. Ten years later, he still finds himself occasionally pushing the pedal closer to the floor, but then he’ll let up, reminding himself that driving at the speed limit is much less stressful, that he feels more in control of his car and is saving money by maintaining moderate speeds. And his bonus – he hasn’t received a speeding ticket in 10 years.

My mind went to Mert as I was reading our Christopher News Note “Road Rage,” which we mailed out last month. With so many more cars on the road driving has become more stressful. And at the same time we are seeing more cases of road rage.

The American Automobile Association defines road rage as “an incident in which an angry or impatient motorist or passenger intentionally injures or kills another motorist, passenger or pedestrian or attempts to threaten or kill another motorist, passenger or pedestrian.” You’re reading and hearing about it more and more.

Having lived in Southern California, I know the stress that comes from driving crowded freeways. I’ve seen instances of very aggressive driving – abrupt lane changes, tailgating, speeding and other dangerous behavior. It’s frightening. It’s never justified. It’s never warranted.

As I travel now, I notice the busy highways across the United States. Arizona recently announced that it’s planning a new freeway that would be 12 lanes in each direction. As we get more drivers on our already crowded roads we see a marked increase in aggressive drivers who feel they’ve been wronged by the real – or perceived – action of another driver. Then the aberrant behavior begins, with the result all too often a case of road rage – rude or bizarre behavior that results in threats, or worse, to the other drivers.

Each of us has to imitate Mert and get our driving under control. Increased traffic is a fact of life and we have to learn how to live with it in a way that makes us less stressful. We live scheduled lives and we want to get to our home, meeting, church, party or whatever on time. Our trip is more tense when we get stuck in heavy traffic or another driver does something that upsets us. As the “Road Rage” News Note suggests, we have to adapt. We should plan our driving to allow time for the traffic problems we might encounter. Music can soothe the “traffic beast,” so a nice relaxing disc can help the trip.

The bottom line is to not lose our cool and to remind ourselves, even before we start the car, to practice patience. It will be a much more relaxing – and safe – trip if we do.

(Dennis Heaney is director of The Christophers, an organization dedicated to the proposition that it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. For a free copy of the Christopher News Note “Road Rage: Put the Brakes On!” write to: The Christophers, 12 E. 48th St., New York, NY 10017; or e-mail:

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