Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I got on a D-4 bus on K street the other afternoon, and the trip was awful. The back of the bus was filled with high school students, mostly teenaged boys, who began singing rap songs. Initially I wasn't paying attention, then their voices got more audible; it sounded like they were rehearsing something, going over and over it. Then I became aware of the obscene nature of the words. I couldn't believe my ears! The ruckus was so bad you couldn't hear the person next to you.

When I got up to get off the bus, I said to the driver, "You know, you may find this amusing, but I find it obscene and just beyond belief. Is there nothing you can do?" and he said, "You think I enjoy it?"

I said, "Well, if you don't, why don't you do something." Whereupon he said, "If you can think of anything to do, why don't you do it." He seemed sincere. He was almost embarrassed. He had patches on that indicated courtesy awards or service or something.

I know from previous encounters with other drivers they have the authority to use the phone to get assistance, but they won't do it. This thing with the rowdy kids has been going on for years, and no one does anything about it. I've had a beer poured down my chest by a drunk, and the driver said, "If you have a problem, get off the bus." The drivers say they don't have the authority; they are just supposed to drive the bus.

What can we do?



You shouldn't have to be subjected to this, Ms. Sumner. You've got some rights, too. This kind of behavior, like playing loud radios, falls under a disorderly conduct law. The regulation in this instance means that people can be cited for causing a disturbance on public transit or annoying fellow passengers or the operator. Conviction can mean a fine of up to $250 and 90 days in jail.

Police, if they do get involved, often prefer to counsel the offenders, and operators, as you point out, may prefer not to get involved because they don't want a hassle.

What a passenger should do when confronted by this, according to Metro spokeswoman Marilyn Dicus, is to quietly tell the bus operator what the problem is. If the operator agrees there is a problem, he or she can press a silent alarm that will summon police, or the operator can talk directly to Metro control, which can then suggest remedies.

If the operator seems unwilling or unable to resolve the situation, Metro advises you to note the time, date, route and bus number and either call 202-637-1328 or write to Metro consumer affairs, 600 Fifth St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001. Send a copy of any letters here, too, and we can see how many such complaints are resolved.

Meanwhile, Dicus said Metro police will give special scrutiny to the problem you've described.

Sometimes there is a gap between the policies of a bureaucracy, and the way these policies are carried out. If this is one of those areas, feel free to relay your experiences. If you run into exemplary bus drivers, who handle this kind of problem well, let's hear about them too.

Flaunting HOV Lane Rules

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Is it true that the HERO program for telephone reporting of HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) violators has been canceled?

If so, do you think police enforcement of the HOV rules will be increased?



The Virginia State Police say there won't be any increase. "We will continue to enforce vigorously, as we always have," says spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell. The HERO program, by which motorists reported express lane violators to state officials, who then wrote warning letters to vehicle owners, was abandoned Nov. 1 because of cost.

Virginia's Department of Motor Vehicles sent out about 57,000 warning letters since the program started last year, and at first the number of violators was said to have been reduced. Then the number of violators began increasing, apparently after drivers realized the letters were only warnings.

State Police are still using a supplemental effort to catch HOV violators: ticketing by mail. Since the summer of 1989, police have been jotting down license tags of apparent HOV violators and then ticketing vehicle owners by mail.

Some 5,000 such tickets have been written, although a number of the tickets wash out in court when it cannot be determined who was driving the vehicle.

One of the constant complaints received here is the number of people who flout HOV rules. There are plenty of State Police cruisers lying in wait for speeders late at night along the area's major HOV corridors, Interstates 395, 95 and 66. Whether the level of enforcement against express lane violators is sufficient, those who observe the HOV rules can decide.

Changing Lanes Safely

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Please settle an argument between my friend and me on the safest way to change lanes.

My friend checks the rear and side mirrors, then changes lanes. I check the rear and side mirrors, and also quickly look over my shoulder to check the blind spot.

He insists my way is dangerous because it takes my eyes off the road for an instant when I turn my head.

I feel his way still allows a car to sneak into a blind spot. Many times when I have not looked back and start to get over, someone is in my blind spot blowing a horn.

What do the experts think?



Dr. Gridlock was taught to always look back and check the blind spot, and this has no doubt prevented some accidents. Norman Grimm is one expert, and he advises drivers to take a quick look back. Grimm is the manager of traffic and safety for the local branch of the American Automobile Association. If there are other opinions to the contrary, let's hear them.

Thwarting Car Thieves

A couple of weeks ago, Dr. Gridlock published tips about protecting vehicles from theft. The least expensive devices, recommended by police, are called a J-Bar, and the Club. Those items cosdt less than $50 and available at most auto accessory stores. Following are some responses to the subject:

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

There is a foolproof method of thwarting car thieves. It has worked for me for about 10 years. I can leave my car unlocked with the keys in the ignition and the windows open, anytime, anywhere. Other cars have been stolen within 20 feet of it, but mine has never been touched. It's always where I left it.

The secret? Driving a car that no one else wants. I own a 1977 yellow Chevrolet Impala that has not been washed in three years. For good measure, I have allowed the dents donated by D.C. drivers to evolve into unsightly, rusty blotches.

Blessed peace of mind.



Hate to steal some of your peace of mind, Roz, but better read on:

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Most owners feel that car thieves are only interested in expensive models, and won't bother their five-year-old clunker.


A lot of cars are taken straight to "chop shops" to be dismantled for parts. A car can be sold for parts for more than it is worth whole. This makes any type of car attractive to a thief.



One of our specialists in this area, D.C. police spokesman Daniel Straub, says "chop shops" are indeed on the increase. These can operate from garages or right in the open, appearing to be some kind of junkyard. Some of them will steal to order: You tell them what you need, they steal the parts.

One owner of a car that had been stolen and partly stripped went back to the automobile dealership where she had bought the car and, lo and behold, the car was repaired with the fenders that had been stolen.

Straub said the woman knew they were the same fenders because of some unique scratches. This was a dealer likely getting parts from a chop shop. The more security devices, the less chance your car gets snatched.

Straub has a couple of thoughts on your yellow Impala, Ms. Larkin:

1) You stand less of a chance of having your car taken because it is not as popular a collector item as say, older model Mustangs or Corvettes.

2) Nonetheless, "You can't dismiss the possibility that someone may drive by who has an Impala of their own, sitting on blocks in the yard for lack of parts, and who might just take yours to get his going." But overall, you're probably in better shape than some with more attractive cars. A Shift to Higher Gear

George Schoene, Washington's chief traffic engineer and a source often quoted in this column, leaves the District government today to take a position with the Federal Highway Administration. He will focus on ways to use new computer technology, on such things as a "smart car" to make commuting easier. Heaven knows we need smarter cars. Bon voyage, George.

Dr. Gridlock appears in Metro 2 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 (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.