Dear Dr. Gridlock:

What can a person do about tailgaters? They are endangering my life. They follow so close I can't see their headlights in my rearview mirror.

Some of these people seem to think they are in a video game rather than involved with living, breathing people in machines who could get crushed.

I've been tailgated while doing 65 mph in the right lane on the Beltway. The tailgater leaned on his horn until my exit and kept on honking as he blew past.

I've been sideswiped in the left lane of the Beltway by an angry tailgater because I was not exceeding the speed limit to his specifications.

I've got a sign on my vehicle that says "I brake for tailgaters," but most of the time that does no good.

Sometimes I fantasize about being in a James Bond car that emits a smoke screen or an oil slick to foil the pursuers. What can I do?

Tina Rhea

Greenbelt

Lots of us experience tailgaters and fantasize about some kind of death ray that will make them evaporate. Here's the advice of Norman Grimm, director of safety for the American Automobile Association:

"The best thing is to remain calm, drive at a safe speed, move to the right and let up slightly on the accelerator to make it easier for the person to pass.

"If people speed up to stay ahead of the chase, they wind up driving faster than they are comfortable. If they tap the brakes, they can infuriate the tailgating driver."

Dr. Gridlock moves over as fast as possible to let the cretins blow on by. I want them out of my life.

Deep in the Everglades, at the end of a 40-mile, dead-end road, lies the settlement of Flamingo. A marina, lodge, restaurant and bar--that's about it. No traffic. No tailgaters. No gridlock.

What's a few (million) mosquito bites, poisonous snakes and toothy reptiles if that's what it takes to escape the horrors of our roads? Tailgaters or alligators--which pose the greatest danger? Dr. Gridlock has been thinking about that.

In a Perfect World

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The 18-hour gridlock caused by the overturned gunpowder truck at the Springfield interchange was truly a traffic nightmare. What I thought was particularly interesting, though, was my traffic survey as rush hour inched along: Of 123 cars heading outbound on Virginia Route 50, only 17 had more than one person in the vehicle.

Can we be surprised at the daily gridlock we encounter when the vast majority insist on driving alone?

Frank Freeman

Arlington

No gunpowder trucks in Flamingo.

A New Rage for Reading

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have been commuting daily from Arlington to Fairfax for many years, and the commuting has taken a toll on me. My children have even chided me for my indignation and impatience. They suggest I "just drive."

I have tried to cool off with soothing classical music, but recently lost my station to the ubiquitous news format. Feeling bereft, I tried another tack. For the last week I have been listening to a book on tape. That has made all the difference.

My blood pressure has returned to normal. My drive has actually become a pleasure! I would like to recommend this to all who suffer from road rage (either as perpetrator or victim), and grinding commutes.

Sandra Burford

Arlington

Dr. Gridlock has a friend who commutes regularly from Raleigh, N.C., to Baltimore, about a 300-mile trip each way, and says it's bearable because of books on tape. Others say audio books are one of the few pastimes children will tolerate on those long vacation drives.

I have no good idea what tape to get. I've made a cursory check for a list of the Top 10 most popular books-on-tape rentals and didn't find that. Do you folks know of any Top 10 lists, or have any audio book recommendations? Perhaps we could put some in this column to contribute toward soothed nerves.

Driving Inside the Lines

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am part of a car pool that commutes from Waldorf to Silver Spring. To avoid most of the rush-hour traffic we leave the Waldorf Park-and-Ride lot at 5:30 a.m. On dark, rainy mornings, it's hard to see the lane lines around the Beltway because so many overhead lights are not working.

Could you find out what is going on?

Julie Daniel

Waldorf

Burned-out lights on the Maryland Beltway have been a problem for years. Two years ago, the State Highway Administration directed more money and staffing to the problem. At that time, by the state's own survey, only 30 percent of the lights were working.

The state surveys the Beltway lights every month now and reports that 80 percent of them are working. The target is 90 percent. Some of the problems include construction projects interfering with electrical cables and water that seeps into the electrical works.

If you'd like to report an outage, or obtain information on the subject, call Randy Brown, a state maintenance engineer, at 301-513-7304.

Virginia officials elected not to light their side of the Beltway, except for the biggest interchanges (boo).

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 drgridlock@washpost.com. The doctor's fax number is 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers.

UPDATE: SPRINGFIELD INTERCHANGE; I-95 and Route 644 Lane Closures

Monday-Tuesday:

* From 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., one HOV lane of Interstate 95 will be closed between Interstate 495 and Fairfax County Parkway (Route 7100) for construction of a temporary bridge. One lane will remain open.

Monday-Thursday:

* From 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (and on Friday from 9 a.m. to noon) the left lane of westbound Old Keene Mill Road (Route 644) will be closed between Loisdale Road and Amherst Avenue for bridge and crossover construction. One lane will remain open.

* From 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (and on Friday from 9 a.m. to noon) the left lane of eastbound Old Keene Mill Road will be closed between Spring Road and Backlick Road for bridge construction.

* From 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (and on Friday from 9 a.m. to noon) the right lane of southbound Amherst Avenue will be closed between Bland Street and Springfield Boulevard for demolition work and placement of a temporary concrete barrier. One lane will remain open.

* From 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (and on Friday from 9 a.m. to noon) the left lanes of both north bound and southbound Frontier Drive will be closed between Franconia Road and the Springfield Mall entrance for median construction.

NOTE: Northbound I-95 traffic bound for Franconia or Old Keene Mill roads must take the new Exit 169, turn left at the light at Loisdale Road and go north to Franconia Road. The old Exits 169A and 169B are no longer available.

For updates on lane closures, check www.springfieldinterchange.com or call toll-free 1-877-95-95-222 to reach VDOT information operators.

SOURCE: Virginia Department of Transportation