Pius XII on the highways - and accident prevention

Source: District of Asia

Address of Pope Pius XII to Delegates Attending the Second World Congress of the International Highway Federation. Taken from L’ Osservatore Romano October 5, 1955. French text.

We are happy to have the honor of your visit, gentlemen, and to extend to your distinguished assembly Our encouragement and best wishes. The Second World Congress of the International Road Federation, which brings you to Rome this year, is interesting not only to highway engineers but also to traffic experts, public officials, specialists in economics and law, and prominent people in the political, industrial, and commercial life of the fifty-two nations which now make up your Federation. It is because of the importance of your work and the interest in the results of your pursuits that We now address you.

Arteries of Yesterday and today

One common thought animates your studies and discussion: good highways are necessary for the social and economic development of people. You resemble a group of scholars and doctors who examine the circulatory system of a living body in order to understand its nature and its laws, its normal and abnormal functioning. The great part of the life of a country truly streams through its highways: the principal arteries lead off to smaller roads, then to lanes, which carry to the farthermost parts of the body-social the resources necessary to its existence. Not only material goods travel the highways, but those of the spirit borrow this means of communication in order to reach man. Is it not from the movement of caravans that the vast historical phenomena, like Buddhism and Islamism, spread through the centuries to diverse nations? And the wonderful roads of the Roman Empire, did they not help to spread the Christian religion in the ancient world? The mind marvels, comparing the precarious conditions of travel up to the last century with the results obtained through the patience and energy of man: voyages, discoveries, arts, industry and commerce have depended entirely, or in large measure, on the highways.

Today, however, these problems have taken on a vastness and a complexity that is entirely new. This revolution is due principally to the appearance of the automobile. From the first experiments with the automobile until the last years of the past century, the motor vehicles imposed a terrible strain on the road. The peaceful rolling over the road of the early vehicles now became a succession of violent strokes hitting the road at a tangent and transferring the shock back to the car. The roads were soon full of ruts, and the clouds of dust raised by the cars clearly showed their rapid deterioration. The problem thus created forced the finding of a solution. A more durable and resistant road surface was sought, which necessarily was more costly; but the advantage of automobile travel warranted the imposing of high motor vehicle taxes. From this new state of things came extensive research, studies and experimentation, which are precisely your concern, gentlemen, and in which We have a lively interest, primarily because of their social importance.

Vital means of communication

The present highway problems appear to be closely connected with the recent utilization of new sources of energy, which enables man to save more and more of his time and strength. From a simple possibility, the saving of energy quickly became a stern necessity: under pressure of competition, individuals, commercial and industrial organizations, entire nations are obliged to enter into this gigantic and universal speed race, which characterizes modern civilization. Otherwise, there is financial ruin, economic destruction. Now the highway, as a means of communication, enters the contest as a necessary, at times decisive, element. That is why today's roads must be so serviceable and so safe, in a word, so perfect.

Without entering here into the technical and legal aspects of the question, We wish to observe that financial benefits should never supersede human needs. It would be wrong to use public funds for the construction or maintenance of a highway system to serve particular interests, while less favored peoples have an urgent need to be freed from their state of inferiority by access to civilization, which depends in large measure on the means of communication. To open a road is like opening an economic market, introducing the blessings of medicine and hygiene, of instruction and religion: dispensaries, schools and missions will see their activity multiplied and extended. Along with them, health of soul and of body will penetrate deeply into the region. There is no man with a heart who will not be moved by these considerations, and it is the duty of those who can, to use their influence with strength and generosity. By doing so, they will merit the gratitude of all those who have a sense of human brotherhood.

Accidents and their prevention

In addition to the solving of traffic problems, your Federation carries on an important work of social education, for which We are pleased to commend you; a work, We wish to point out, which deals with the formation of a most acute sense of responsibility among all users of the highway. Who has not given, in fact, anxious thought to the too great number of accidents of which the road is the theater? Today's cars, more numerous, speedier, and heavier, create an ever increasing danger for each other and for pedestrians. There are many and varied causes of accidents, some material, others psychological.

As to the first, men are applying themselves, We hope, to the task of finding a completely efficacious remedy. But it is also necessary to inculcate in everyone a sense of his grave duty to respect the lives of others. A salutary fear of immediate and adequate repressive measures undoubtedly will contribute toward this end; but the police alone cannot prevent perils created by drivers scarcely masters of themselves, led on by the passion for speed or, at times, intoxicated. It is important to observe of one's own accord a strict discipline, conforming to established and generally accepted rules. The often dramatic consequences of violating the traffic code give its observance an extrinsic obligatory character far more serious than people generally think. Drivers cannot count on their own ability and watchfulness to avoid accidents: they must maintain a proper margin of safety in order to cope with the careless driver and unforseen difficulties.

We like to believe that your concern, which is also Ours, will not be without effect, and a better educated public opinion will create on the highways an atmosphere of courtesy, moderation and prudence orresponding to the best traditions of Christian civilization.

Let charity animate

Let Us also, gentlemen, speak a - word about the thoughts suggested to Us by the beautiful volumes in which you present to your readers some truly remarkable examples of the motor industry, noble achievements of human skill and work. Looking at the lines of cars dashing down the broad highways, question-not without some anguish arose in Our heart: Where do all these people go so speedily? Are they driven on by a sense of duty, or a passion for money? Is it their desire to serve or to dominate their neighbor? And We thought of the precept of charity, of the word which sums up the whole teaching of the Divine Master: "Love one another as I have loved you" (John 15, 12). "All that you wish men to do to you, even so do you also to them" (Matt. 7, 12).

Let this charity always animate the hearts and wills of men. It is the light of the world, and those - who follow it do not walk in the darkness (cfr. John 8, 12).

To conclude, in wishing that the harmonious union of your efforts may contribute greatly to the general welfare of society and may promote the peaceful relations to which the whole world aspires, We beg God to pour forth His grace I upon you and We impart to you, your families, and all those dear to you, Our paternal Apostolic Blessing.