Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am writing to you after making over 15 phone calls to motor vehicle and transportation offices, police departments, insurance companies and other organizations in an attempt to learn more about the laws requiring child safety seats.

Specifically, if a child is under age 4, is a car seat needed when riding in a church bus or a bus that is not an official school bus?

Your help looking into this matter would be appreciated.

Christine Verzi

Director, Mount Olivet Preschool

Arlington

Dr. Gridlock tried looking into this subject several years ago and, like you, found it a frustrating tangle of regulations and exemptions, with differences in the District, Maryland and Virginia. Now, Dr. Gridlock's assistant, Jessica Medinger, has taken on the subject, and this is what she found:

* There are no requirements that we could find mandating the use of child safety seats in buses. Some jurisdictions exempt buses, and some simply don't address them. However, if the bus has seat belts, it is safest to secure a young child in a safety seat regardless of the legal requirements.

* In automobiles and vans, children in Maryland and Virginia younger than 4 are required by law to be in a child safety seat. In the District, the safety seat requirement applies to those younger than 4 or weighing less than 40 pounds.

* Diana Wigle, highway safety specialist for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, says children should always ride in the back seat, regardless of age, to protect against injury from air bag deployment. Up to age 1, the child should be in the safety seat facing the rear, she says, and from ages 1 to 3 should be buckled into the safety seat, with safety belt and shoulder harness, facing forward.

* When a child reaches 40 pounds (about age 4), a booster seat is needed to bring the child up to a level where the lap and shoulder belt can act as restraints. Buckle the seat belt and shoulder harness around the child and booster seat, according to Lori Miller, child passenger safety manager for NHTSA.

* Regardless of the law, it is very important to keep all people restrained while traveling in passenger vehicles, Wigle and Miller said.

Here are some telephone numbers for more information:

The NHTSA hot line is 1-888-DASH-2-DOT (you can drop the 'T' when you dial the number). They can also send you a copy of child transportation safety tips.

Also, Kids in Safety Seats (KISS) can be reached at 1-800-370-SEAT in Maryland, 202-671-2350 in the District and 703-280-0559 in Virginia. These numbers include information on where you can take your child safety seat to learn how to correctly install it in a vehicle.

AAA Driving School

Over the years, many of you have asked for a recommended driving school in Montgomery County. I haven't been able to help you.

Now one has started up in Rockville that may be of interest.

AAA is offering 30 hours of classroom and six hours of behind-the-wheel training in a program at 30 Court House Square, Suite G-1. This marks AAA's entry into the local driver training business, with more sites scheduled to open soon.

"We are not only putting our name and reputation behind the school, but it exceeds state standards, and our state-certified instructors have an enormous amount of traffic safety experience," said Norman Grimm Jr., AAA's safety director.

"Our goal is to offer the best quality instruction possible to new drivers and includes excellence in instruction, materials, equipment and quality service," he said.

The program is taught in AAA's new Chevrolet Malibus. Other AAA driver training programs are scheduled to open in the next few months in Wheaton, Bowie and Largo, he said.

Once the classes are established in Maryland, AAA will open instruction in Northern Virginia.

The next classes in Rockville start Jan. 8, Feb. 12 and March 25. The cost is $290 for AAA members and $320 for nonmembers. For more information, call 1-877-457-0711.

Dr. Gridlock is not endorsing this program, just presenting a new option. I'd like to hear what you think of it.

A Sure-Fire Cure for Traffic

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have to weigh in on traffic congestion. The humorist Will Rogers said it best more than 60 years ago:

"The way to solve the traffic problems of the country is to pass a law that only paid-for cars are allowed to use the highway."

Ronald K. Large

Bristow

Thanks. We desperately need a traffic chuckle.

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 drgridlock@washpost.com. The doctor's fax number is 703-352-3908.

Please include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers.

Child restraint laws

District Maryland Virginia

Safety seat 3 years and 3 years and 3 years and

required younger or less younger younger

than 40 pounds

Penalty:

Maximum fine $55 $25 $50

Points 2 N/A 3

Children allowed No No Yes

in rear of pickup

trucks

EXEMPTIONS

The District

Horse-drawn vehicles and vehicles used for sightseeing, taxi, ambulance, funeral or farm purpose.

Vehicle capacity more than eight passengers.

All vehicle's belts are in use (children must be restrained in the front seat).

Virginia

Taxicabs, school buses, executive sedans, rear cargo of pick up trucks or other vehicles.

In a vehicle with an interior design that makes a child restraint impractical.

In a public transportation vehicle, bus, school bus or farm vehicle.

Child whose weight, physical or medical condition prevents use.

Maryland

Child whose weight, physical unfitness or medical condition prevents use.

All vehicle's belts are in use.