Although the following incident took place in Prince William County, the ramifications apply to many other jurisdictions. The question we explore today is this: How does a citizen prosecute a crazy driver?
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
On a recent Saturday morning, my wife and I were taking our three dogs to the vet for their yearly checkup. The traffic was heavy on Old Bridge Road; we were in the left lane. Suddenly, out of nowhere, this sport-utility vehicle pulls right up on my bumper.
I mean inches from my bumper. I checked my speed and noticed I was doing 48 mph in a 45 mph zone. I was about a mile from where I wanted to turn left.
Normally, I try to be considerate to drivers who are in a hurry, but I had no room to change lanes, and this person wasn't exactly appealing to my nice side. I decided to do the speed limit and maybe he would go around me on the right.
I told my wife to hang on; I honestly felt we would feel an impact. The SUV driver stayed right on my bumper.
As I began turning left about 50 yards past Occoquan Road, this person passed me on my right, coming within inches of my car. I didn't get a good look at the driver, but I think I got the license number.
I was cool and collected at the time, but as the days pass, I realize how much this event has traumatized me. I find myself searching for this vehicle. I'm afraid if I don't do something nonviolent, like contacting the police, I may revert to something more harsh if I find this driver.
My question to you is this: What can I do? I mean, I hate to call police if they are powerless to do anything. Yet I know I would feel better if they would serve this person a ticket for reckless driving or road rage.
Can you please help me with this dilemma?
Dr. Gridlock often quotes police as saying that if they didn't see the incident, there's nothing they can do about it. And that is so.
But you can take it a step further by going through a magistrate to charge the other driver with a traffic offense, such as reckless driving. You can see it through to a criminal court proceeding, with the alleged offense prosecuted by the commonwealth's attorney's office.
"The judges are looking at this very hard, with all the road rage going on," said Officer Dennis Mangan, a spokesman for the Prince William County police. He said drivers have been convicted, jailed and fined because of complaints initiated by citizens.
You would start this procedure by visiting the county police facility nearest you, in this case the Gar-Field substation at 15949 Cardinal Dr. Police will trace the license plate and help you evaluate your case for a magistrate, Mangan said.
However, you need to be able to identify the driver, and judging from your letter, that may not be possible.
It may be small consolation, Mr. Stark, but your tale helps illustrate how citizens can seek justice by their own initiative. Other counties offer similar opportunities. If you folks want specifics, please send me your incident.
I am also interested in tracking cases to see how they are handled after a citizen complaint.
Feeling Boxed In by Vans
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I find it almost impossible to back out of a parking place when I'm in a shopping center with vans or minivans on either side of me.
All views are obstructed, and there is no safe way to get out except to edge out and hope that any passing cars will signal that they are approaching.
In many public garages, spaces are assigned to compact cars. I suggest that in shopping centers a similar arrangement should be in place, namely parking areas restricted to vans and minivans.
This would contribute to safety in shopping centers.
Who would get the spaces closest to the front doors? And who would enforce such a plan? I'm sympathetic, but I think the answer is to back into a spot or, better, pull through back-to-back empty spots so you are headed out.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Last week, a van cut us off while we were driving near Marshall in Fauquier County. The driver was so reckless I looked in vain for a license plate number.
Where a license plate should have been on the rear of the vehicle was a white, cardboard tag with black lettering that said, "TAG APPLIED FOR."
Is this a new form of temporary tag? How would the police issue a citation?
I hope the driver also has a "BRAIN APPLIED FOR" since she immediately passed a cement truck over a solid double line right into the path of an oncoming car.
Jeffersonton, Culpeper County
Great. So you make sure your license plates are current, along with your state inspection and county tax stickers, and some bozo is sharing the same road with you with what looks like a homemade license plate?
Virginia's Department of Motor Vehicles does not issue such a bizarre plate nor, to my knowledge, does the motor vehicle agency in either Maryland or the District.
Police won't detain a vehicle on suspicion of a forged plate, according to Virginia State Police spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell. However, if a vehicle is stopped for some other offense, like speeding, and the driver doesn't have a valid registration and license plate, the driver may be ticketed for improper registration.
Seems like I have seen something like this once or twice on Interstate 95, but can't remember what state may have been involved. I thought it might be South Carolina, but they say no. Anyone have any more information?
Dr. Gridlock's assistant, Jessica Medinger, contributed to this column.
Dr. Gridlock appears Monday in the Metro section and on Wednesday or Thursday in the Weekly and Extra sections. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, P.O. Box 3467, Fairfax, Va. 22038-3467, or e-mail him at email@example.com. The doctor's fax number is 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers.