Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Please settle a dispute between my wife and me. I say if a driver flashes his lights as he closes in on a slower driver, this simply signals that the slower driver should pull to the right and let the faster driver pass. This usually applies to folks who cruise the fast lane at or about the speed limit, which is just too slow.
My wife says everyone knows that flashing lights is rude and the trademark of an aggressive driver.
I haven't had a speeding ticket in nearly 20 years. I admit that flashing lights can be indicative of aggressive driving, but I dispute my wife's contention that it is rude and aggressive in all cases.
Bob and Cheryl Poliquin
Here's what I do: If drivers flash their brights at me, I usually think they are somewhat aggressive, though I'd rather have them do that than tailgate. When I receive a flick of the headlights, I move over as swiftly as possible and let them pass, and think nothing more of it.
Now here's some sage advice from Norman Grimm, safety director for the American Automobile Association:
"Virginia Code Section 46.2-842.1 makes it unlawful on divided highways for drivers being overtaken by other vehicles to fail to give way to those vehicles 'upon audible or light signal.' Upon this audible or light signal, the overtaken vehicle must move right to allow the overtaking vehicle to pass.
"Bob is absolutely correct in his reasoning that the audible and light signals have an intention of making the other drivers aware someone is passing. No one can deny that Cheryl is also correct in her feeling that, in today's world, many drivers interpret this type of signal as an insult and the sign of an aggressive driver.
"I suggest the following to make our driving experience a little better:
"(1) Drivers should keep to the right except when passing another vehicle;
"(2) A simple flash of the lights to communicate to a driver should be fine, as long as aggressive tailgating and continuous flashing of the lights do not accompany it. At that point it ceases to be a communication and then becomes reckless, unlawful and confrontational;
"(3) If someone flashes their lights, simply move right and do not interpret this as an insult.
"NOTE: Remember, driver education begins at an early age. If you have children in your vehicle, their observance of your driving habits will carry over to their driving future. Drive as you would like to see them drive."
Thank you, Mr. Grimm. If more people adhered to points 1, 2 and 3, wouldn't driving be a lot less stressful?
Uncorking the Bottlenecks
Here is an important item, I think. The District of Columbia government is removing the parking meters on the north side of I Street NW between 15th and 20th streets NW.
This is important, because cars parked legally during rush hour were taking the curb lane away from traffic. In cases where construction projects already take away two lanes, the curb lane parkers reduced I Street to one lane. This segment was one of the worst traffic bottlenecks in downtown Washington.
The department also announced a ban on double parking on either side of this section of I Street and emphasized that no parking or stopping to let off or pick up people during the morning (7 to 9:30) and evening (4 to 6:30) would be permitted.
"Mayor Williams gave us an ultimatum--eliminate gridlock," said Public Works Director Vanessa Dale Burns. "Along this stretch of I Street NW, sometimes only one lane is open for travel, making it one of the worst sites in the city to negotiate. If this tactic is successful, we will use it at other congested locations."
I suspect some of you had an impact in this decision. I sent a half-dozen of your letters to the city's traffic chief, Gary Burch, a few months ago, and he seemed to think removing those parking meters was a good idea. Let me know how this approach seems to be working.
Nobody knows these bottlenecks better than you folks. Now that we seem to have eager people in charge, send me your nominations for the worst bottlenecks in the city, and why, if you know.
For instance, is that delivery truck still taking up the curb lane during evening rush hour on southbound 14th Street NW in front of the Commerce Department?
How is H Street NW these days, particularly at its intersection with New York Avenue?
And how is 15th Street NW southbound at Constitution Avenue?
I can't tell you how much it means to have two public servants, Mayor Anthony A. Williams and the new public works director, say they want to attack gridlock.
Attack away! There may yet be hope for the gridlocked.
Another Plate Puzzle
Okay, here's another license plate puzzle. We'll try to run the question on the first Monday of the month and the answer on the third Monday.
Name the make of the car that has the license plate "Stories." I suspect this might be tougher than some of the others.
Dr. Gridlock's assistant, Jessica Medinger, contributed to this column. Dr. Gridlock appears Monday in the Metro section and 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.