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:
I agree that the crackdown on aggressive driving is all talk, no action. Like Mr. Bentz, I see numerous examples of aggressive driving every day, especially on multilane freeways such as Route 50, Interstate 270, Interstate 295 and the Beltway.
The police I see are usually stationed in the median strip, as observant as trees, with their eyes glued to their radars. Are they catching speeders? Yes. Are they catching aggressive drivers? No.
The aggressive drivers are over in the right lanes, weaving in and out, hidden from the view of the traffic cops.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Mr. Bentz posed a question regarding the advertising and implementation of programs designed to catch and apprehend aggressive drivers.
You suggested that programs such as Smooth Operator and Checkpoint Strikeforce might be a way to "funnel public funds to favored ad agencies . . . to create the impression that there is more police activity out there than there actually is."
Then you asked us what we think. Here's my two cents:
I do not believe that local or state law enforcement truly wants to catch or apprehend aggressive drivers. I believe they want people to think they are working the issue (hence the advertisements), but in fact they do not have the will or the resources to actually crack down on these dangerous drivers.
Earlier this year, I was harassed by an aggressive driver on an off-ramp from the Beltway. Apparently, I was driving too slowly (less than 10 mph over the speed limit). This individual whizzed past me on the left even though we had already entered the off-ramp and there was a Jersey wall.
He yelled obscenities out the window and shook his fists at me. He cut in front of me and began bearing down on his brakes, slowing for no other reason than to instigate an accident.
With the individual still in front of me, I called Virginia State Police to report an aggressive driver and provide the appropriate license plate number, model car, etc. The dispatcher kindly informed me that unless I wanted to press charges, there was absolutely nothing they could do.
Clearly, Virginia state troopers have no desire to apprehend aggressive drivers. If they did, there are several things they could do that would not be terribly labor- or resource-intensive that might help alleviate the problem by discouraging drivers to act in this manner.
First, they could encourage the public to report aggressive drivers to an aggressive-driver hotline.
Second, they could establish a database of information on such drivers (taken from the aggressive driver hotline reports).
Third, at the very least, they could send reprimanding letters to the owners of the vehicles, letting them know that they've been "caught."
While these ideas certainly are not perfect, I believe they are a good start . . . that is, if law enforcement is really interested.
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:
I wanted to second your comments about the lack of police coverage of Beltway traffic. I drive 13 miles of the Beltway in Virginia at least twice a day and, except for responding to breakdowns and fender benders, I rarely see police.
People weave in and out, tailgate and make quick lane changes in tight conditions without signaling.
Between the rush hours, the average speed on the Beltway is now about 70 mph, with many going better than 75. And even at those speeds, we have the hotshots roaring through at 80 to 90 mph.
Rude and reckless driving (I don't like the term "aggressive") at those speeds will eventually cause a catastrophic, multicar pileup.
When that happens, I hope Virginia's state police are held fully accountable. They are doing absolutely nothing to control the situation and prevent disaster.
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.
Pull Up for a Light Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I read with interest the comments on why drivers stop a car length before the white line at intersections.
Many lights where I drive have sensors embedded in the road that don't trigger the green light unless a car is stopped directly behind the white line.
I've spent many cycles trapped behind drivers who don't realize that the light isn't going to change unless they move up.
The line grows and grows behind them, and it sometimes takes several more cycles before the intersection can clear.
Some drivers never realize that they need to move up. After 10 minutes, I will get out of my car and beg them to move up to the line so we can trigger a green light.
The same thing happens when drivers go past the white line to wait. Unless the region is able to make the sensors include the area at least a car length behind the line -- or do away with them altogether -- those drivers who choose to stop well before the line are making a significant contribution to the increased time required to get around.
Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.
Dr. Gridlock appears Sunday in the Metro section and Thursday in District 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.