Dear Dr. Gridlock:

When I try to keep a safe distance between me and the car in front of me, other cars seize the opportunity to jump into the gap. It's next to impossible to maintain a safe distance. What to do?

Dick Boyden

Alexandria

This is the unhappy result of too much traffic on our road system. You leave a gap, and someone else will pounce on the space.

I suppose you could slow down to create another gap, but most likely that will be filled by another lane jumper. Eventually you'll be crawling along -- still seeking to create a safe distance -- and you're liable to be struck from the rear by a vehicle going high speed in the right lane.

I have no solution for this. How about you folks?

Storm Reports All Wet Maybe it was just me, but didn't our television weather people do another number on us during Wednesday morning's "ice storm"? They had determined that the roads were going to be icy and treacherous. They drew lines on a map: Ice to the left of I-95, and rain to the right.

However, their reporters were pointing to puddles in the road -- not ice -- and the cameras on interstate highways showed vehicles moving freely and swiftly, giving off spray.

When a TV correspondent in Frederick reported rain was falling -- when she was supposed to be reporting ice -- the forecaster in his studio corrected her, saying she was seeing "freezing rain" that fell as rain and froze immediately upon contact. Never mind the puddles.

Other correspondents were kicking at puddles to try to find ice. Meanwhile, amid the continuing icy-roads predictions, school systems shut down and many employees lost a day of work.

What I learned from watching channels 4, 5, 7 and 9 from 4 to 9 a.m. Wednesday was this: Next time I'll turn the sound off and pay attention to traffic flow on the TV cameras. If traffic is flowing smoothly, trailing plumes of spray, we don't have ice on the roads -- despite forecasts to the contrary.

Vision of Tragedy

I saw a scary thing in my neighborhood recently. An SUV with a teenage driver came skidding around a corner on a snow-packed street, towing another teenage boy on an inner tube.

The motion caused the inner tube to swing wide before moving off in a more-or-less straight line behind the vehicle.

When this kind of swing-wide force hits an inner-tuber on a lake, the rider can cartwheel off the tube and hit water. On a residential road, the tuber can hit a street sign, curb or mailbox.

Dr. Gridlock knows of at least two people -- one killed and one requiring brain surgery -- who were being towed while riding skateboards.

If you think this is a possibility in your family, please take preventive action.

Your Route to Metrobus Maps

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I understand there are maps now available of the entire Metrobus system. Can you help me find one?

Chris Swenson

Washington

The sales center at Metro headquarters, 600 Fifth St. NW, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 to 4 p.m.; the Metro sales outlet at Metro Center, 12th and F streets NW, 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; the Pentagon transit center at the Pentagon Station, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

A list of other outlets is available at www.metroopensdoors.com. Click on "Fares" and then "Sales Outlets." Maps also can be purchased online.

A Tiresome Situation

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

While I am heartened to read about the number of good Samaritans on the roads today, I do not understand how the majority of problems seem to center on people who are "stranded" without the basic knowledge of how to put a spare tire on a car. Shouldn't that be a licensing requirement?

Kyle W. Thompson

Leesburg

It can be dangerous. In the dark, at the side of a busy road, with traffic whizzing by. For people who are frail or unaccustomed to changing a flat tire -- which is probably most of us -- I prefer to recommend a cell phone (always carry one for emergencies) to summon AAA or another road service. Let the experts do it.

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column. You can write to Dr. Gridlock at 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers e-mails at drgridlock@washpost.com, or faxes at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening phone numbers.