Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I live near Richmond and thank my lucky stars that I don't have it as bad as most of your readers. I don't believe traffic down here has reached the frenzy that exists in the Washington area.
I travel quite often between Richmond and Fredericksburg on I-95, and I get a real taste of the wild, aggressive driving. On a recent Sunday, I was going 72 mph and didn't feel safe in any lane. Eighty seemed to be the average speed, with all the usual lane-changing and tailgating. I have to wonder what it would take to make people realize the dangers associated with such bad driving.
I've made the decision that my son, who is 13, will not get his license until he is at least 17 and has driven 1,000 miles on his learner's permit. Why put another driver, immature and inexperienced, with possibly a lead foot, on the road?
Yes, it's wild up here. Many lawless drivers. What I particularly like is your insistence that your son will not automatically get a driver's license at age 16 and instead will undergo further training.
Perhaps if you tell him this repeatedly at age 13, you will not go through the incessant badgering and pressure so many of us endure on 16th birthdays. I think you're wise to hold off; most young drivers are not ready for solo driving at age 16, especially in our quite-mad driving culture. Good luck.
Programs Don't Seem to Help Reader Dick Bentz of Bethesda wrote that he hears radio promotions for "Smooth Operator," a law enforcement effort to target aggressive drivers, and "Checkpoint Strikeforce," a program to catch drunk drivers.
"To date, I haven't seen one iota of evidence that either program is in operation," Bentz wrote. Many readers agreed, as did Dr. Gridlock.
Here's a response from a federal government official in charge of these programs:
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Shame on you for not doing a little fact-checking before you responded to the letter from Dick Bentz regarding the "Smooth Operator" and "Checkpoint Strikeforce" programs.
The "Smooth Operator" program has been targeting aggressive drivers throughout the metropolitan area since 1997. This summer alone, 219,467 motorists were cited during four, one-week enforcement blitzes by 50 law enforcement agencies from Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
The second program, "Checkpoint Strikeforce," is a new, regional initiative this year to discourage those who drink and drive. So far, participating states have conducted 178 sobriety checkpoints, screening a total of 76,529 vehicles. DUI arrests totaled 748, along with 107 charges for controlled dangerous substances.
Traffic fatalities and injuries still take an enormous toll on our citizens and require continuation of programs to make our roads safer. We believe "Smooth Operator" and "Checkpoint Strikeforce" help achieve this desired result.
Elizabeth A. Baker
Region III administrator
National Highway Traffic
U.S. Department of Transportation
Well, thanks for the effort. But what do these numbers mean? We're dealing with traffic anarchy here, with drivers routinely ignoring the law. It is hard to appreciate what you are doing, Ms. Baker, when so many of us see no sign whatsoever of any law enforcement effort on our roadways, with or without your programs.
When is the last time any of us saw a driver pulled over on the Capital Beltway for speeding or reckless driving? (One way you can tell, for those who have never seen it, is by looking in the rearview mirror and seeing flashing blue lights, with a cruiser speeding past and then, up ahead, pulling over a driver). It has been years since I have seen that on any of our interstate highways.
HOV lanes are full of violators in Virginia and Maryland. What does that tell other drivers?
In the District, illegally parked vehicles routinely block lanes in rush hours, and drivers block intersections because they know they can get away with it.
We all want the same thing: more law and order on the roads. Next time you've got some money, how about spending it in less random, more visible ways, such as traffic enforcement on the Beltway (current minimum speed 70 mph), the HOV lanes and the gridlock problems in the District?
Establish checkpoints in the barrier-divided HOV lanes (post-NHTSA signs) and we'll know you're there. Your efforts will be applauded by law-abiding motorists -- at least by the ones who are left.
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 email@example.com, or faxes at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening phone numbers. Dr. Gridlock cannot take phone calls.