Reader Liza Recto of Lexington Park asked why drivers stop well behind the white stop line when they are the first at a traffic light. I asked the audience. Here are some of your thoughts:

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I always stop about a car length behind the white line to see the traffic signal. I am 6 feet 4 inches tall. The windshield curves up to the roof of the car. I can't see the signal unless I lean forward and extend my neck backward to look up. It is very uncomfortable.

I have two alternatives to this painful procedure:

1. Ignore the light and wait for the person behind me to honk when the signal changes.

2. Stop short of the white line at the intersection so I can see the signal without the strain.

The delay in acceleration once the light is green is negligible, so I don't think it inconveniences anyone, but given Ms. Recto's letter, I guess it can be irritating. I hope my reply lessens that irritation for readers who feel that way.

Patrick Noone


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In summer, if there's shade a car length or two back and none at the white line, then I'll wait in the shade for the traffic light to change. What's the big deal anyway?

Bill Akerley

Silver Spring

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I don't know why they stop far back from the white line, but they may be making a mistake if there is a sensor there that trips the traffic light for them. This is especially true for left-turn signals, where I have seen drivers denied a green signal because they hadn't pulled up far enough to trip the sensor.

John Fay


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

When I am first in the left-turn lane waiting for a left-turn arrow, I stop 10 feet back from the line because the left turners coming from my right want to cut the corner as sharply as possible and will take the first two to three feet of the left-turn lane on my side of the white stop line, if available.

I'd rather let them have it and not protect the turf with my left bumper. I have seen an accident of the quick driving left turner, and the vicarious learning experience was enough.

When I am first in line to go straight through the intersection, I will stop three to five feet behind the white stop line. Again, with people running red lights here, I think the chances of someone bouncing into me after getting hit go down if I am back from the intersection a little.

Also, when I am first in line, I look left and right before I take off when the red light turns green.

James T. Langford


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Have you ever noticed that at some intersections the stop line for the left lane is half a car length back from the stop line in the right lane?

That's to facilitate left turns for drivers approaching the intersection from the right.

I'm guilty of stopping back from the stop line -- but not by two car lengths -- at certain intersections where I know that cars approaching from the right make left turns at excessive speeds, often crossing the stop line on the wrong side of the road. So, for me at least, it's a matter of defensive driving.

Myron Uman


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In my experience, this is a rare phenomenon. Usually cars are all the way across the crosswalk, considerably in front of the stop line. They believe that the six feet they gain by jamming their front bumper over the line or next to the car in front will get them to where they are going that much faster.

George E Sauer


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I often stop short of the white line to avoid being clipped by drivers making a left turn in front of me or by trucks and buses making a wide right turn. I began doing this after experiencing some very close calls.

R.E. Thompson

Silver Spring

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I personally do this because I was just behind the white line last year when I was hit by a tractor-trailer that was turning into the lane next to me. It damaged my vehicle, and I was in therapy for months because of a back injury.

I will have this problem for life, and it all could have been avoided if I had been sitting back a few more feet from the line. That is why I sit back. Experience.

Elizabeth Knippenberg


Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

Dr. Gridlock appears Sunday in the Metro section and Thursday in Montgomery Extra. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers to receive e-mail, at, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, town, county and day and evening phone numbers. Dr. Gridlock cannot take phone calls.