Safety on roads and sobriety of drivers

Fr Cezary Chwilczynski talks to the rally driver and Member of the European Parliament Mr Krzysztof Holowczyc.

Fr Cezary Chwilczynski: - I cordially welcome you as a rally driver and MEP. Which title is more important to you?

Krzysztof Holowczyc: - There comes a time in man’s life when one must think seriously what one can do for others, what is going on in Poland and in Europe. Of course, I am a realist and will not speak how I will try to change this big organism, which is the united Europe. I rather think about what can be done on Polish roads so that they are safer - this is the task of my work in the European Parliament. To tell you the truth, I am a sportsman, a rally driver and not a politician.

- How can we improve safety of transport in Europe, and above all in Poland?

- Currently, we are far behind these countries that could be models for us - I am thinking of Great Britain, France or the Scandinavian countries. I must admit that there are a lot of things to do in this sphere. For many years I have observed the situation on Polish roads and have reached the conclusion that all the governments ignored, unfortunately, the problem of the condition of our roads and safety on roads. During election campaigns politicians spoke about that but nobody fulfilled any promise afterwards. That’s why, a few years ago I created the Foundation ‘Safe Driver’ to make something concrete for us, drivers. It is a very important issue to me and I think that as a member of the European Parliament I will have a bigger influence on starting concrete activities.

- The Western European countries have the most modern roads, a system of monitoring, excellent traffic signs, but in spite of these things on the average 110 people are killed in Europe every day. It gives 40,000-50,000 deaths a year in the whole continent. The biggest number of deaths concern people under 40. This is a horrifying perspective...

- Naturally, these statistics are horrifying. Unfortunately, we face the risk of accidents in places where there are heavy traffic, speed or the possibility of people’s errors. Why does it more often concern young people? The reason is simple: they are more active and have a bigger need to travel and at the same time they have not sufficient experiences and they usually overestimate their skills. The improvement of road safety is a long-term process.

- The subject of abuse of alcohol, especially the problem of drunken drivers, is very important. It is a tragedy on Polish roads. Within a year policemen ‘catch’ almost 200,000 drunken drivers. Facing the loss of driving-licence or a two-year imprisonment does not make some drivers stop using their vehicles after drinking alcohol. Other countries impose very severe restrictions on drunken drivers. How should the Polish law develop to prevent drivers from driving their vehicles after drinking alcohol?

- You have pointed to a very important issue. On the one hand, we expect people do things for us, that if the punishment is high and people are afraid of being caught, they will not drive after drinking some alcohol. We could make the system of punishment so good that the best thing would be to cut drunken drivers’ hands. Of course, we cannot do that and such a system will not work. I am deeply convinced that it is a matter of good manners, which we need to acquire. A drunken driver must be convinced that he or she does an evil thing. Many people still think, ‘The distance is very short. I will make it. I have driven this way many times and I will do it again.’ Another issue that should be considered is the social consent for driving after drinking some alcohol. It should not be so. We must say clearly: a driver who is not sober is very dangerous for all of us - for our children, relatives and for other drivers. Then the situation could be changed. Even if we impose severe punishment we will think, ‘I will succeed.’ But if I am convinced that I should not do this I will think, ‘No, I will not drive after drinking alcohol because I will be ‘zero’ for myself, other people and my family.’ We need a strong social pressure that does not allow such behaviours.

- The social awareness you are speaking about is very important. Today, penitents confess having driven after drinking alcohol. So they are aware of their sins. In this context I would like to ask you about the role of the Church to help solve the problem of drunken drivers?

- I believe that the Church can help a lot concerning this problem. When we participate in Mass it is a wonderful moment. It seems to me that we are in a slightly different, better world and we have the chance to accept all issues that are important to us. And we can understand them much better. I truly believe that every appeal from the pulpit, directed to young people and to adults, has sense. The fact that priests ask people not to drive after drinking alcohol and when they say it when our spirits are opened to hear that, has an enormous meaning. That’s why I openly say about my collaboration with Fr Marian Midura, the chaplain for Polish drivers. We prepare many various actions concerning sobriety of drivers and safety on roads in general.

- The core of the problem is to make the society realise about drivers’ sobriety. For example, when I can see someone drinking alcohol and thinking of driving. Then I must do everything to persuade him or her not to drive home. I must even take his/her keys...

- Yes, these are simple activities and the Bishops’ Conference has already been involved in them, the example being the project ‘Krzys’: at a party we indicate a driver, i.e. someone who does not drink any alcohol. We silently call him/her a hero because he/she will serve others. We appreciate him or her in a special way. One should show his/her responsibility. I think that it is a big chance to improve the situation in Poland in several years so that we are not a country where alcohol is the most common reason for serious accidents.

"Niedziela" 11/2008

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: