We've all seen this. A very small accident in the middle of a major road. Both drivers standing by their cars, grimly exchanging numbers and waiting for the police. Waiting and waiting. Meanwhile, traffic backs up, sometimes for miles and miles. Dozens, hundreds, thousands of people can be delayed by a fender bender.

This is because people believe that they should keep their cars right where they are so police can figure out what happened and insurance claims can be protected. However, police are giving out different advice. In most such cases they want the motorists to get those cars off the road so that others can move on. More on that later. Here's a typical complaint:

Dear Gridlock: I am fed up with drivers in Washington who, during rush hour, fail to understand the meaning of rush hour.

Monday afternoon there was a minor accident on Rock Creek Parkway (northbound to Beach Drive). Two cars sat on the road.

No one was hurt. In fact, the two drivers were exchanging numbers and I couldn't see any damage to the vehicles. I assume they were waiting for police. As I jogged onto Rock Creek, I could see traffic had slowed to a stop because of the accident.

I believe these two people could have moved their cars onto the grass, or taken the zoo exit to clear the road. But no way!

Everyone had to go around them on the wrong side of the road, which stopped traffic completely. By the time I got to the P Street exit on Rock Creek, traffic started to move again, and the two cars had left.

I don't know how many people use Beach Drive to go home from work, but I'm sure if these two people had been thinking, maybe 3,000 or more people could have made it home on time that day.


You are right. Police in the District, Maryland and Virginia agree that if there are no injuries, damage is minor and the cars can be driven, that the vehicles should be pulled off the road, or as close to the edge of the road as possible.

This is not only to get traffic moving, but also to help prevent another accident.

"Many people are under the assumption that they have to keep the vehicle where the accident occurred," said Greg Shipley, a spokesman for the Maryland State Police. "This is not the case."

Says Fairfax County's veteran police spokesman, Warren Carmichael: "If it's a minor fender bender and no one is hurt, they should get off the road, absolutely."

Another Fairfax County police spokesman, Bill Coulter, adds: "By sitting there they increase the chance of being hit again or creating other accidents. If it's a minor situation it's so much easier to get them off the road and let the officer piece the accident back together. I found when I worked wrecks 99 percent of the time I could determine who was at fault even when the cars had been moved."

But haven't we all seen instances where police are on the scene and the minor fender bender is left in the middle of the road?

"That may be because the officer has not had a chance to get a grasp of the situation," Coulter said. "The first thing he has to do is determine whether anyone is injured and whether help is on the way. Next is to find out who the participants are and see if the cars are movable, and then to make a field sketch and then to get them off the road." It should only take five to 10 minutes to do that if the accident is minor, he said. If it takes longer, it may be because the officer is inexperienced.

And what do insurance officials say? "Many insurance companies would not object to having the car moved to the side of the road as long as police were being called to the scene," and the accident is minor, with no injuries, according to Harvey Seymour, a spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute, a communications organization for property casualty insurers. August Alegi, a GEICO vice president and local spokesman designated by the American Insurance Association, said "we don't dispute" police advice to move cars off the road in minor accidents. (Alegi, however, said he wished more police would make out reports for minor accidents; often they don't, he said.)

Police and insurance officials stress that getting the car out of the way applies only in minor accidents with no injuries. If there are injuries or if there is major damage to a vehicle, then motorists should seek help and leave the cars in place.

Avenue Diamonds Are Forever

A number of readers have asked about the meaning of the diamonds on the pavement of the curb lanes along Connecticut Avenue.

Normally those diamonds indicate the lanes are for the use of High Occupancy Vehicles (buses or car pools) only. Here, however, they have no purpose. According to George Shoene, the District's traffic chief, the city years ago painted diamonds on the curb lanes from Calvert Street north to the District line and posted signs designating these lanes for the use of buses, bicycles and taxicabs.

As the Metro Red Line was extended out Connecticut Avenue, however, the signs were taken down, and the special use of these lanes has long since been abandoned. But the diamonds on the pavement remain. "We elected not to go out and take them out in an attempt to save money," Shoene said. "It takes a lot of burning and grinding to get them out. We figured they would wear out."

Maybe so, but a number of them remain, and must be confusing to some motorists, based on the inquiries here. Connecticut Avenue, measured at Porter Street, carries an average of 24,000 cars a day.

Perchance He Was Dreaming

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Reference the person who wrote complaining of being honked at a split second after the light changed from red to green. Mayhap he was one of those people I have observed eating, reading, sorting mail, talking, making love, drinking, staring fixedly at some object or creeping across the pedestrian walkway. Three or four lights tailing one of the above and even Job honks.


The lady who wrote that letter did not claim to be doing any of the above, but you make a point, too.

'We Are All Desperate'

Last week it was mentioned here that the Dr. Gridlock column for Jan. 1 might be an opportunity for readers to offer New Year's resolutions that local traffic officials should consider. A number of readers have jumped on that opportunity. If you'd like to offer a recommendation, feel free to do so in one or two sentences, please, and say what jurisdiction you are referring to. Mark the outside of the envelopes "January 1," and we'll see if we can help officials off to a good start next year. Here are some examples of what people are saying:

District police should make a REAL effort to keep traffic moving during rush hour {by resolving to} ticket illegal parking, especially in front of the World Bank on 19th Street; drivers who run red lights; and those who make illegal turns from improper lanes.

IDA SIMMONS Washington

Widen Burke Lake Road {in Fairfax County} between Braddock Road and Rte. 123, or at least to Burke Centre Parkway. A lot of money was spent this past year to "improve" Burke Lake Road, but it is no improvement since it is still a slow-moving, two-lane road. It just has an extra traffic signal at Burke Road now.

SHERRY LONG Springfield

For the New Year, I would like to see Maryland and District officials remove the three parking meters from Western Avenue westbound at Friendship Boulevard. These three spaces are the cause of a dangerous bottleneck on a heavily traveled street, as traffic is reduced to one lane.

TOM MYERS Washington

Please try synchronizing the traffic lights {in Northern Virginia}; it just might help the flow of traffic. One light turns green, only to have the next one turn red.


I would like to see cars towed from the right lane on 23rd Street between Washington Circle and Constitution Avenue during the evening rush hour!

MARLA D. BAUM Alexandria

I believe BOTH east and west proposed legs of the "outer Beltway" are necessary to relieve pressure on local roads -- NOW!!! We are all desperate.


Dr. Gridlock appears in this section each Friday to explore what makes it difficult to get around on roads, from misleading signs to parking problems to chronic bottlenecks. We'll try to find out why bad situations exist and what is being done about them. You can suggest topics by writing to GRIDLOCK, c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Please include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers.