Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The recent snowstorm was my first time driving in the snow in the Washington metropolitan area. No wonder the whole area shuts down when there's a light sprinkle! Drivers here are unaware of basic safety needs when driving in the snow!

During my few miles from home to work, along Route 355, I was tailgated numerous times. The basic safety measure while driving is to keep the next car a good distance in front of you, and these drivers failed even that.

I saw a Mazda 626 trying to take a turn while driving full speed plow into the opposite curb. I saw a Lincoln Continental fishtailing for a whole mile because the driver insisted on traveling well in excess of what conditions were allowing.

Almost any car is good in the snow if you drive slowly, take turns even more slowly and keep a good interval between you and the vehicle ahead.

Larry Contratti

Rockville

You are not the only person amazed at the way some people drive on snow and ice. We'll be creeping along, and sooner or later somebody will come roaring past, and we say to ourselves, "What an idiot."

Thankfully most people tend to drive as you prescribe, Mr. Contratti. Good thing.

Stalled Stairways

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Reader Mary Kull suggested that Metro could save on escalator wear and tear by shutting off seldom-used escalators during off-peak hours [Dr. Gridlock, Dec. 5]. While I welcome any economies, Metro has already achieved this by having at least one escalator out of commission, even at rush hours.

The odds are that on any given day, two escalators only will be working and sometimes only one. Negotiating down stationary escalator steps is no fun.

Nelson Marans

Silver Spring

It's also dangerous. The escalator stairs are at different heights than regular steps. Metro has yet to get a handle on its inconsistent escalator system.

New Metro Car Features

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I cannot believe Metro's director, Richard White, who has asked Metro riders for their comments on survey cards handed out at Metro stations, yet did not ask riders their opinion of bench seating.

He would be surprised at how many Metro riders are in favor of this. What is wrong with being like New York City? They run a clean and efficient subway system that should be a model to other subway systems around the country.

Who do we contact about our support for bench seating on Metro cars? Or, better yet, why doesn't Dr. Gridlock take a survey of how readers feel about it.

Paul Zender

Washington

The next series of Metro cars, due to go into service in 2005, will have a number of improvements for passenger comfort and safety, but bench seating is not one of them.

"Customers won't see the New York subway-style bench seating, in large part due to the fact that riders in Washington, D.C., may be on board for a longer ride than New Yorkers are accustomed to riding," says Lisa Farbstein, a Metro spokeswoman.

"A trip from Shady Grove Metro to the Pentagon, for example, takes a little less than an hour. Our customers would like to sit down if they're going to be on board for that long -- and we'd like to be able to offer them a seat."

Dr. Gridlock will be glad to see what readers think. You can also send your views to Richard White, chief executive officer, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, 600 Fifth St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001.

Here are some of the improvements in the 2005 cars, according to Farbstein:

* Dual overhead handrails that will replace the single, ceiling-mounted, longitudinal handrail.

* The replacement of the ceiling-to-floor vertical stanchions (near the doors) in favor of seat back-to-ceiling vertical handrails and wall-mounted vertical and horizontal handrails. This change would allow riders a clearer path when entering and exiting the cars;

* Elimination of windscreens near the doors to improve overall access.

How does all this sound?

The Danger Is Distraction

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

For quite some time now, I have read horrible news reports of fatal accidents in which cars have rear-ended vehicles on road shoulders. Invariably, these accidents occur when someone has pulled over to change a tire and gets killed, or when a police officer is assisting a motorist in distress and gets hit.

The drivers of these cars simply veer off the road, as if attracted to the shoulder like a magnet, and kill people.

Why do you think this occurs?

In light of this phenomenon, shouldn't people be warned not to stay with their disabled vehicles if vulnerable to passing traffic? How can the police be protected?

I have read so many of these disturbing reports that I am convinced, if my car is disabled, I will immediately get my family out of the car and move to an area away from the car, even if it's snowing! Then I'll dial for help. I'd rather be uncomfortable than dead.

Any comments from you or your readers?

Veronica Clarke

Ellicott City

I don't blame you for being fearful. I suggest you pull your disabled vehicle as far off the road as you can. If traffic is still whizzing by at an uncomfortably close distance, then I'm with you: Head for the woods.

Police try to protect themselves by pulling their vehicle forward and outward, creating a pocket of protection for the officer and the citizen.

Drivers usually strike people on the side of the road because they are distracted. I am reminded of a young man who was involved in a fatal accident on the Capital Beltway in Prince George's County when he ran off the road and hit people while talking on a cell phone. I'd put cell phones away while driving.

Anyone else have comments?

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 drgridlock@washpost.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.