Dear Dr. Gridlock:

It's time to do something about the auxiliary lights on many vehicles. Some of them are way too bright for use in an urban area, and have no apparent function. Aren't there restrictions on the type and number of lights you can have on the front of a vehicle? I'd suggest this would be an area for attention during vehicle inspections.

It's not clear what purpose these lights serve, other than to look stylish or to draw attention to an expensive car. If these are "fog lights," why do I see them in use when it's not raining or foggy? If they're to improve visibility on dark, deserted stretches of road, why do I see them in use on the Beltway and in Georgetown on a Friday night?

Many of these auxiliary lights are driver-installed, which adds to the problems. Poorly anchored lights are easily knocked out of alignment by rough roads and vibration, until they're no longer pointing down at the road, but in the eyes of other drivers.

In some cases, the lights appear to be hard-wired with the headlights, so they're on any time that the headlights are working.

Whether the lights came with the car or were owner-installed, most are way too bright for use around other vehicles. They're as bright, or brighter, than high-beam lights.

Can't something be done before everyone who drives in the Washington area goes blind? JIM SWEENEY Bethesda

You're right, Jim. Most of us have problems with these "fog" lights. Apparently they are used by some owners to effect a sporty look, yet they often are a hazard, blinding others whether they are oncoming or approaching from the rear.

Two extra front lights are allowed in Maryland, Virginia and the District, and officials in all three jurisdictions say they are routinely checked for aim during auto inspections (an exception being in Virginia, where if the extra lights have covers on them, they are not inspected). Many of these lights are owner-mounted and are easily knocked out of line by encounters with potholes, curbs or off-road driving.

And the laws that allow them are written so arcanely that police acknowledge they generally don't even try to determine whether the extra lights are in compliance. Even if the law can be understood, it is impractical to enforce it, and even if it were enforced, tomorrow's bump can throw the extra lights out again.

Take a deep breath for this one. Here, for example, is how the law reads in Maryland:

Any motor vehicle can have not more than two fog lights mounted on the front "so long as they are not more than 30 inches nor less than 12 inches above the level surface on which the vehicle stands, and so aimed that when the vehicle is not loaded none of the high intensity portion of the light to the left of the center of the vehicle shall at a distance of 25 feet ahead project higher than a level of four inches below the level of the center of the lamp from which it comes."

Got that? Imagine you're a trooper trying to enforce that one.

Then there is the matter of need. We don't have that much fog around here, and for what we do get, the normal low beam from a standard headlight should be sufficient, in the opinion of Norman E. Grimm, manager of traffic and safety for the American Automobile Association.

Some police and industry specialists believe people put the lights on their cars strictly for fun. "It's a decorative option; it gives them a competition-type appearance, a sports look," said Thomas Carr, vice president for technical affairs at the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association. Most of the problems, he says, are with the lights installed by owners, rather than by factories. "But I don't like them even when they're aimed right," he said.

What can we do? Grimm advises motorists encountering one of these oncoming "Star Wars" vehicles to temporarily shift focus from oncoming traffic and use the right edge of the road, or lane marker, to get by.

But is the desire for decorative lights reason enough to put others in danger? We need to hear from some owners as to why they need extra lights.

Otherwise, there is a very simple way to boil down the complicated laws surrounding fog lights: Outlaw them.

What do you think?Why Trains Blow Whistles

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Why do the drivers of Metro's subway trains blow their whistles while pulling into or passing through stations? It's a fairly common occurrence, but I can't think of a reason why they would ever have to. Are they afraid that children might be playing on the tracks, or cows crossing? There doesn't seem to be any good reason for this behavior.

Maybe they're just bored and get a kick out of startling us yuppies from our commuting stupors. It might be a harmless annoyance except that the whistles are often painfully loud, at least when they reverberate through the acoustically contained underground stations. Can't the practice be stopped altogether? ERIC H. ARNETT Washington

Metro says there usually are only two reasons why trains blow their whistles:

If the train is passing through a station and is not picking up passengers, an operator may blow the horn to tip people off that they should not gather their belongings and move forward. Ironically, the horn blast, however irritating, is meant to help people. I wonder how many people understand the purpose of this honking.

If the train is coming out of or going into a tunnel, where the light changes dramatically, the operator may sound the horn. This is because the operators can have difficulty focusing on the track ahead after a sudden, sharp change in lighting. The horn is honked in case someone is on the track ahead, said Metro spokeswoman Beverly Silverberg.

If you see other instances, particularly chronic ones, please write. Team Ireton to the Rescue

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

During a recent snowstorm, I found myself unable to maneuver my car up a hill on Telegraph Road in Fairfax County. Worse yet, I could not even get off the road to the safety of the shoulder. I had no idea what to do at that point, when a group of young men offered to help.

They were the Bishop Ireton basketball team on their way to a game. They got me off the road and made room in their van for my daughter and me. Later, they took us home.

Over and over again during the trek up Telegraph Road, a car would run into trouble and a cry would go up in the van "Team Ireton needed here!" This group of athletes helped several other unlucky motorists like myself. Their help and good humor not only got me out of a bad situation, but also out of a bad mood.

With all the negative publicity teens get today, I hope you will print this small example of the many positive contributions teens make to our world.

Go Team Ireton! HELEN ELLIOTT Alexandria

Happy to accommodate. Thanks for the cheerful letter.

Kevin Clancy, basketball coach at the Alexandria school, said the team was en route to a game in Prince William County when its van became stuck in traffic congestion during the snow. The team never did get to the game (it was canceled), but apparently scored points with several motorists. Bus Driver Packs 'Em In

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I've been riding the Metrobus for years, and one thing that bothers me is this: Why do drivers have to load us in the buses like cattle?

Don't they realize what a safety hazard this is? People bring piles of bags and packages and babies in arms, and there is sometimes no way to get off at your stop because no one wants to move, or no one can move.

I dress to be presentable at work, but by the time I get there, I'm all messed up from people snagging my nylons to people banging me in the head and messing up my hair.

We pay more than enough taxes to receive better service than this. I'm sure there can be some rules about loading up a bus excessively. It's not going to kill people to wait for another bus. It used to be they wouldn't let but so many people crowd a bus.

I can't afford to buy four pairs of nylons every week, not on my salary, and things are going up every day. I'm tired of having to fight through a crowd almost every day to get off at my stop. Metro is talking about going up to $1 in July, and for what, with this kind of service.

They need more buses in Southeast. ELIZABETH WILSON Washington

There are rules about overloading a bus. Basically, no passengers should be standing in front of a white line on the floor near the bus driver. But Metro acknowledges that there are times when so many people are packed on the bus that people are over that line and standing in the stairwells. Beverly Silverberg, Metro's spokeswoman, says she is not aware of any effort to enforce the white line capacity, that such decisions are left to the drivers, many of whom don't want to leave people behind at the bus stop. "Your reader needs to put herself in the position of the person standing on the street corner, left behind, especially in winter," Silverberg said. "Bus operators hate to leave anyone. The people who are left would sometimes get the driver the next day {and say}, 'Why did you leave me?' and that's really the agony for the bus drivers. They are given a job to do, and in the case of not having enough buses on a line, they aren't given the tools to do it right."

The way to initiate a study of your line is to call Metro's consumer assistance at 202-637-1328. They will usually send a supervisor out to study such requests. The fact that people are standing doesn't necessarily make it crowded. But if it's regularly packed -- the standard is 140 percent of capacity -- for prolonged periods, the line may be crowded.

If so, Metro asks the city for permission to add more buses to the line, and the city generally approves, according to Metro spokeswoman Marilyn Dicus. Because city support is needed, it would also be useful to call Art Lawson, acting manager of the city's Office of Mass Transit. He can be reached at 202-939-8050. Also mention the problem to your bus driver, who can start a review.

You shouldn't have to live like a sardine. Ground-Level Exhausts

A reader recently asked why Metro can't have bus exhausts that function at the roof level of the bus, rather than so near ground level, where bicyclists and others sometimes are forced to gulp noxious fumes. Metro spokeswoman Beverly Silverberg had said there was only one bus in the fleet with roof-level exhaust. After a recheck, it has been determined that 540 buses, or about a third of the Metro fleet, have the roof exhausts.

But Metro is not going to buy any more because they have proven more difficult to maintain, because the exhausts have to be located amid air-conditioning and heating units.

A reminder: Dr. Gridlock's column moves to Thursdays starting next week, to appear on the front page of the Weekly section. Perhaps appropriately, the Dr. Gridlock space on Fridays will be turned over to the comics.

Dr. Gridlock will appear in the Weekly each Thursday to explore commuting matters. He will 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.