In a recent letter, Dick Bentz of Bethesda said he was hearing radio advertisements promoting the Smooth Operator and Checkpoint Strikeforce police programs, purportedly to crack down on aggressive and drunk drivers.
Bentz wrote that he has not seen "one iota of evidence that either program is in operation."
"None of the aggressive drivers that zoom past me every day, cutting in and out, seem to be at risk of being pulled over, nor have I seen any checkpoints designed to catch drunk drivers," Bentz wrote. "Someone is spending a lot of money on advertising. Is anybody spending any on implementing these two programs?"
I haven't seen any evidence, either.
I asked for your answers. Almost all of them were negative and bring into question the value of such programs. Here's a sample:
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Mr. Bentz deserves the "Letter of the Year Award." He hit the nail on the head! There is no Smooth Operator program or any other program to target bad drivers (and there are a lot) in the D.C. area.
I have personally written to Col. David Mitchell of the Maryland State Police three times over the last two years and told him that they need to do way more than they're doing right now about aggressive driving on Interstate 270, the Beltway, Interstate 95 north between Baltimore and D.C. and, of course, Northern Virginia. It has gotten worse and worse and worse.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
What do I think? Police routinely ignore traffic situations.
Monday, Oct. 7, 1 p.m. Good Hope Estates neighborhood, Silver Spring. Four police cars are across the residential street investigating a break-in with a possible suspect still in the house. There are two officers on the lawn with shotguns trained on the house.
A car comes squealing around the corner (speed limit 25) at a very high rate of speed, all wheels squealing, doesn't make the corner, slams sideways into the curb, disabling the vehicle on the entire driver's side (two flat tires at least).
Six neighbors watching the police see the incident, as do the police. No one is cited for reckless driving.
The teenagers return later when the police are gone, again at a high rate of speed, and curse the assembled neighbors beseeching them to slow down.
Go to six months ago. 10 p.m. A car on the same street has left the roadway and crashed into and through a neighbor's large brick mailbox holder planter. No skid marks. Pieces of car and bricks everywhere. The police came. No citations issued. No testing of the driver for any substance.
Anyone walking along the street at either time would have been killed in either of these incidents. Neighbors are confused as to what needs to happen to be cited for reckless driving in Montgomery County.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
You asked for opinions about the police's apparently lackluster efforts against aggressive driving versus the advertising hype.
If my experience is any indication, aggressive drivers are largely getting a "green light."
I commute to my job from Germantown to Washington via Interstate 270 and the Beltway, and although most drivers are sensible, I regularly encounter those who risk my life and theirs to save a few seconds.
Finally, one day I couldn't take it anymore when a driver attempted to run me off the road so that she could wedge her car in front of mine on the exit ramp to Georgia Avenue South. That exit ramp frequently backs up quite a bit during the morning rush hour, and although most people wait their turn, periodically, aggressive drivers attempt to butt in front of the line.
Ordinarily, this is mainly an annoyance, but this one really frightened me because the driver came barreling around the corner and attempted to shove me out of her way after I was heading down the single-lane ramp.
I remembered the police ads encouraging people to report aggressive drivers, and dialed #77 on my cell phone, as I was no longer in physical danger and did not want to tie up the 911 line.
I was told I had reached the wrong department and that there was nothing that could be done at that number because it was outside their jurisdiction.
I called a second police department number and was told the same thing; after my prodding, the man answering said he would pass along the information, but that he could not guarantee any result or that the right person would get the message.
I called a third number and was told I had reached the right department, but that there is nothing the police can do unless they personally see the violation.
Can't you even send some the driver a letter? I asked, having written down the license plate number. Nope, but they'll keep an eye out for the driver, she said casually (10 minutes now having passed since the incident because of the telephone runaround).
In all three phone calls, it was clear that they simply were not interested in pursuing the incident. This effectively means that the aggressive driver nearly caused an accident and got away with it and will go on to do likewise to others, because she paid no price for her actions.
I can understand that police wouldn't want to issue a ticket based solely on the word of another driver, who may have some sort of ax to grind, but it seems to me they should at least be able to send a letter to the offender stating that an aggressive driving incident had been reported.
If a driver were to get several of these resulting from separate incidents, he or she could receive a formal warning. As it stands now, aggressive drivers have carte blanche to risk the lives and property of their fellow commuters, and they seem to know it and take full advantage of it.
The police may as well spend their advertising money somewhere else.
Christine M. Hanson
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
My vote is an overwhelming no. In two years of driving from Harford County to Reston (and sometimes beyond), I don't recall ever seeing anybody pulled over for aggressive driving. Now that I take rail and Metro to Springfield, I don't experience the aggressive drivers as much, but I do see it frequently in Baltimore on the Jones Falls Expressway, which I believe was documented as having the least patrols of any highway in the area.
These campaigns not only seem to favor certain companies/organizations, but they also make the politicians look good (especially in an election year) because they appear to be doing something.
Aggressive drivers aren't going to pay any more attention to radio ads than teenagers do to billboards discouraging smoking or other risky behaviors.
Make Room for Visibility
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
If your correspondents with this irrational fear of having a large vehicle in front of them, like an SUV, would keep the proper distance between their car and the vehicle in front of them, their ability to see beyond the larger vehicle becomes a nonissue.
Of course their visibility is going to be compromised when they are following a vehicle with one car length separating them at highway speeds.
A one-car-length separation for each 10 mph of highway speed would provide the visibility they need and allow enough time to stop should an emergency occur in front of them.
Mark Willard Sparks
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 email@example.com, 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.