Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Surprise! Driving up Rock Creek Parkway on May 1, I was greeted by signs stating that the Zoo tunnel will be closed for repairs through May 31. This new date has been pasted over the original April 30 reopening date. No year is given, but hopefully that detour will end in 1990. Meantime, traffic congestion gets worse and worse along Connecticut Avenue. What are the chances the tunnel will really reopen this month? MURRAY L. HOWDER Washington

The National Park Service is scheduled to reopen the closed section of Beach Drive-Rock Creek Parkway starting with this morning's rush hour. The road has been closed between Klingle Road and the Connecticut Avenue overpass while workers cleaned, repaired and put a new lighting system into the Zoo tunnel. The project was extended for four weeks because workers removing tunnel tiles found the drainage system needed more repairs than expected.

The Park Service earlier this week was planning no formal announcement of the reopening. "We're hoping that people having learned other routes will stay on other routes and take pressure off the park roads," said spokesman Earle Kittleman. Of course, once the word is out, motorists will continue to use the route most convenient.

Diplomatic Responsibility

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

A few days ago, my girlfriend and I were driving in D.C. when a van pulled out in front of us and nearly caused an accident. We were not surprised to see that it had those familiar red, white and blue diplomatic tags. My question is this: Does diplomatic immunity extend to traffic accidents? If I get into an accident with a diplomat, am I just out of luck? BILL FLEMMER Falls Church

Ironically, you're probably in better shape financially if a diplomat runs into you than if you were involved in an accident with an American citizen. Many folks (Dr. Gridlock included) thought it would be the other way around. The State Department's authority on the subject, Gordon Holt, director of the Diplomatic Motor Vehicle Office, says "diplomatic immunity does not apply to traffic accidents."

Further, each diplomat (and spouse and dependents) are required by the State Department to carry at least $300,000 liability insurance on each of their cars. This is more than most Americans carry and is sufficient to cover 99 percent of accident claims, according to surveys quoted by Holt. In the rare exception where claims exceed that, the State Department would pressure the diplomat's government for additional compensation, Holt said. This was the case in a 1987 accident in which the ambassador of Papua New Guinea ran into a U.S. citizen. In that incident, the ambassador's government was involved in a settlement that exceeded the liability coverage.

Diplomats also can be charged with moving violations and they are supposed to pay for them as any U.S. citizen, Holt said. If they don't, their driving privileges can be suspended for a year, and if they further refuse or fail to comply with that restriction, they can be sent home.

Unpaid parking tickets are a different problem. Most of us think diplomats are immune from them (judging from the number of citations regularly stacked under windshield wipers). Not so, Holt said. Diplomats are supposed to pay parking tickets, but most jurisdictions do not contact the State Department to inform them of scofflaws. The District is beginning that procedure, and Holt says the State Department is prepared to enforce that with pressure and possible suspension of driving privileges.

We may have a misunderstanding about diplomatic immunity because those covered by it cannot be arrested and charged with a felony or misdemeanor unless the home government waives diplomatic immunity. The State Department always asks that immunity be waived, and that the case proceed through our judicial system, Holt said. When a country refuses to do so, the State Department can look into the matter and can send the diplomat home. This reciprocal arrangement helps prevent American diplomats abroad from being imprisoned on trumped-up charges.

Motorists Want a United Front

A few weeks ago, we were looking in this column at the official response to the recent horrendous backups on Interstate 270 (overturned truck, road closed for nearly 24 hours) and the Capital Beltway in Prince George's County (miscalculated timing to install girders for Metro, 20-mile morning backup). Readers wondered what is done about these things. Basically, the officials involved in these messes also were the ones involved in any reviews, and often the matter is quickly dropped.

The doctor wondered if there was a vacuum of accountability here. What if there were a citizens advocacy group, call it "Motorists United," that for a small annual fee, say $10, would lobby local officials for driver concerns, and demand accountability when they take actions (or fail to take actions) that put us in more gridlock. A group that would give some political power to the voiceless stuck in traffic.

Responses came from all over the area. Some of them:

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Re: your wonderful idea to form a new organization to represent commuters in the Washington area. I support the idea wholeheartedly and feel it is long overdue. Without political power, we are virtually forced to endure ridiculous, and often impossible, commuting conditions. MARIAN M. BRUFFY Sperryville, Va.

Point the way to Motorists United -- the time has come! GEORGIA S. HULSEMAN Easton, Md.

I and all of my co-workers would gladly pay $10 a year to have an independent body study the intelligence of some of these road construction companies. KEN KRICK Warrenton, Va.

Just do it! People in Eastern Europe have proved what can be accomplished with a unified voice. I was an I-270 victim that night. Vox populi. J.A. FORD Rockville

Dr. Gridlock's suggestion of a Motorists United sort of political action committee is a great idea for those who want self-perpetuating committees extolling the wishes of one group of people at the expense of another. Hardly democracy, but rather a let-the-money-and-not-wisdom do the talking. Who said we are out of the Me generation? J.S. BACH-HANSEN Germantown

I grew up in a small town (population 25,000) where traffic was not a problem. After stints in Pittsburgh (where you can see where you want to exit, but can't get there) and Boston (just don't drive), I was impressed by what I thought was a sensible traffic system in the greater Metro area. Two years later -- including a year on I-270 -- tells me that something is wrong somewhere.

I'm moving to Arlington next month -- only after I found routes to work (in Bethesda) that completely circumvent the Beltway.

Where do I sign up? KARA SMIGEL Gaithersburg

Your Motorists United is a wonderful idea. Hopefully, tens of thousands of motorists will join. DAVID PAULSON Columbia

I want to be the first member! I think it is an excellent way to press for action and explanation, rather than settling for their word and fuming in traffic. ANNE C. MARSH Alexandria

As individuals we can write letters that are ignored by officials, but pressure from Motorists United would have some clout with indifferent officials and politicians. LES BRINSON Silver Spring

What a stupendous idea! I would have included a check for $100, except I figured you wouldn't know what to do with it now.

I would be delighted to be part of any such endeavor, and if you are serious in promoting such an idea, I'm sure there would be enough interest to get something going. DEANE SHATZ Washington

There are so many unnecessary inconveniences levied on area motorists and so little responsiveness from authorities that full-time professionals working for motorists could have a tremendous positive impact.

I suggest that you ask the volunteers interested in organizing the group to write to you. I, for one, would certainly be willing to contribute seed money to help get the group started. I suppose many of your other readers would do likewise. JAN M. LODAL McLean

Thanks for your thoughts. The doctor would be interested in hearing from anyone interested in taking this another step. To futher measure the depth of support, Dr. Gridlock has arranged a simple call-in vote through the Post's new telephone information system, POST-HASTE. You need a Touch-Tone phone to vote. Dial 334-9000, then enter category code 8500 when you hear the prompt.

Inspection Dejection

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Regarding "Inspections Vexations" {the reader who complained about the city having only two inspection stations and having to wait in long lines}, I can share the frustration. Particularly amusing was the response of Lawrence Greenberg, Chief of Motor Vehicle Services, that the goal is to move cars into an inpsection bay in less than 30 minutes.

Two and a half years ago, I complained about the three- and four-hour waiting time. I made several suggestions, including extending the hours from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., adding weekends and the construction of additional stations, complaining that since we were the highest taxed people in the area, we should be better served. I also suggested that the inspection fee be increased by $5 to pay the additional cost.

Mr. John E. Touchstone responded on November 25, 1988, with a song similar to Mr. Greenberg's, that more inspectors were being added and that "it is estimated that the longest waiting time for any motorist will be no more than 30 minutes," proving the good songs last forever. NICHOLAS A. ADDAMS Washington

Touchstone, then and still the director of the D.C. Department of Public Works, also said in his letter to you that the city had tried evening and Saturday hours and they weren't popular. One wonders how well they were publicized. It is hard to believe folks would rather line up at 7 a.m. or take time off work than come in during the evening or on Saturday. As for Mr. Touchstone's 1988 projection that motorists would not have to wait longer than 30 minutes, are you seeing that? Here's a letter from one who isn't.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Who designed the D.C. car inspection system, the Marquis de Sade?

I know this is a common gripe, but every year when May rolls around I shudder at the prospect of my annual ordeal at the Northeast inspection center.

Yesterday (May 10), in the torrential rain, I sat for 1 1/2 hours for an inspection that took six minutes. The system is absurd. The hours stink, the lines are too long and people actually have to take time off from work to subject themselves to this torture. It is yet another inspiration for D.C. residents to not remain D.C. residents any longer. D. PATTERSON Washington

Dr. Gridlock appears in Metro 2 each Friday. We'll try to find out why bad situations exist and what is being done about them. You can suggest topics by writing (please don't phone) to DR. GRIDLOCK, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Please include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers.