Are cats smarter than dogs at avoiding traffic?

Mrs. Gridlock and I were talking about this the other night. We have two big cats who have prowled outdoors day and night for 10 years and have coexisted with traffic.

Yet our dog, a miniature pinscher, would be run over in a moment if we didn't walk her on a leash. She has no conception of danger from a moving vehicle. Steps right out in front of them.

We have heard so many heartbreaking stories from people who have lost dogs to cars. Yet I've never heard of a car-cat accident. Why the difference? I asked Mrs. Gridlock. "Because cats are smarter than dogs," she said, confidently.

Oh? I said. I never saw a cat fetch, sit up or heel on command. Or exhibit such fierce loyalty as our mini-pin.

I am interested in your thoughts and experiences about pets and traffic. What should drivers do, and pet owners, too, to avoid calamity? And what are your observations about cat vs. dog intelligence, in avoiding traffic and in general?

Going It Alone at Posted Speed?

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Why am I the only driver in the metro area obeying the posted speed limit?

No matter where I am driving, Beltway, Parkway or surface street, everyone except me is exceeding the speed limit.

I try to stay within the law, but am vilified and gestured at, honked at, and endure flashing lights by other drivers.

How can I teach my teens to drive safely and obey traffic laws, when all around them no one else is? Is it any wonder we have such chaos on our roads with such a Me-First attitude?

And now some [reader] in Centreville (Dr. Gridlock, Jan. 13) wants to make 75 mph the posted speed limit on our highways. Heaven help us all.

I would like to see a return to ticketing of those exceeding the speed limit by more than five miles per hour.

Is there anyone else out there driving the speed limit, or am I a voice alone, crying in the traffic lanes?

Nancy Tiffany

Burke

We probably should send a photographer to your home to take a picture of the last person obeying speed limits in metropolitan Washington. Is she the last? Scary question.

If I try to cruise at 60 mph on the Beltway (speed limit 55 mph), I will be run over in any of the four lanes. The prevailing speed out there is at least 70 mph.

We have a culture of speeders because police don't enforce traffic laws enough, and the motorists know it. When is the last time you saw anyone pulled over for speeding on the Beltway?

Police say they count on drivers voluntarily complying with traffic laws to maintain law and order. Well, it's voluntary compliance on the Beltway, and look at what has happened.

To curtail speeding, intersection blocking and red light running--three of our biggest traffic problems--we must have more vigorous police enforcement of traffic laws.

Until that happens and brings some order to our mad driving culture, Ms. Tiffany, I don't know what to tell your teenage drivers.

Fueling the D.C. Road Rage

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I now understand why we have road rage in the D.C. metropolitan area. I have driven over 700,000 miles on both coasts with many auto trips in between, and D.C. area drivers have to be the worst.

For instance:

* Police enforcement is a joke in this area. I have written to the Maryland State Police several times about several dangerous situations, and they haven't done a thing!

* It must be illegal to use turn signals here. People cut in and out in bumper-to- bumper traffic and will not use their turn signals.

* There is rampant tailgating in the rain and snow! Tailgating people and high-beaming them in the right lane! What is going on?

David Alston

Silver Spring

Please see the previous letter.

Driving With Alzheimer's

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You may remember the case last Thanksgiving when the gentleman with Alzheimer's disease became lost at BWI Airport and two days later was found in Chantilly.

One of the most difficult issues facing families when a member has a memory loss problem, or Alzheimer's disease, can be determining when it's time to stop the person from driving.

As you know, driving is often the ultimate symbol of independence, and for older couples in which one partner is the only or primary driver, his or her inability to drive can drastically affect both lives.

Yet allowing a person with Alzheimer's to continue driving can be a hazard to the driver, his/her passengers, and the public at large.

The Alzheimer's Association Greater Washington, along with the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, has developed a brochure--"Is it time to stop driving?"--to help families address this issue. It offers practical and sensitive solutions.

The brochure is free and is available by calling the Alzheimer's Association Greater Washington chapter at 301-652-6446 for Maryland and Virginia residents, 202-483-4258 for District of Columbia residents, and 1-800-331-7299 for Southern Maryland residents.

Karen Lubieniecki

for the AAGW

Laurel

I'm not aware that this is a major traffic problem, but I can see how it could be.

This thoughtful brochure says, "Alzheimer's can cause a number of problems for the driver, including memory loss, an inability to perform routine tasks, impaired judgment, slowed reaction time, an inability to recognize cues, such as stop signs, traffic lights, and the police.

"If a person with Alzheimer's experiences one or more of the following, it may be time to limit or stop driving:

* "Gets lost while driving to a familiar location.

* "Drives at inappropriate speeds.

* "Fails to observe traffic signs and signals.

* "Becomes angry, frustrated or confused when driving.

* "Gets involved in or causes accidents, including fender-benders and close calls."

There's a lot more in the brochure. Dr. Gridlock hopes this helps someone.

Dr. Gridlock's assistant, Jessica Medinger, contributed to this column.