Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My suggestion to reduce speeding:

Drop the speed limit on all major highways by 10 mph. That way, for instance, the Beltway becomes 45 mph, and when speeders do 55 mph or more, the police will pull them over.

That way, with the 10 mph cushion built in, speeders will be going 55 to 60 mph (the currently posted safe speed), rather than the current, very unsafe 65 to 70 mph.

Robert O. Ruhling

Woodbridge

This interesting scenario presupposes one very important element: that police will ticket speeders. When is the last time you saw police ticket a speeder on the Beltway?

I can't ever recall seeing that. The police are simply nowhere to be seen on the Beltway.

I'm afraid a lot of drivers are not going to slow to a reasonable speed if they can drive 70 to 80 mph (the current cruising speed) and get away with it.

Nice try, Mr. Ruhling.

It's Still a Car

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I applaud the federal government for giving a tax incentive to people who purchase hybrid vehicles (Honda Civic Hybrid, Honda Insight, Toyota Prius), and I also applaud Virginia and VDOT for wanting to provide an incentive for these clean-air cars. However, I don't think granting them an exemption for HOV restrictions is appropriate.

Many of the roads and bridges in the Washington, D.C., area were not designed to handle today's traffic levels. HOV reduces the number of cars on the road and puts less stress on that inadequate infrastructure.

Granting HOV-1 status to hybrid owners gives them the incentive to give up a carpool or mass transit commute and instead drive alone.

Granted, given the number of hybrids sold today, this is negligible. However, what happens in five or 10 years when hybrid sales represent a relevant percentage of new car sales?

Hybrids are the future. However, let's introduce incentives that make sense.

Bob Clements

Woodbridge

You've given us something to think about, Mr. Clements, but I think a far greater concern about the effective use of HOV lanes is the lack of effective police enforcement.

Of every 10 vehicles you see in the HOV lanes, how many have the required number of people in them? Tell me. Based on what readers have said in the past, I'm figuring the violation rate is about 50 percent.

That tells commuters that they can use the express lanes as a single driver without fear of being pulled over.

If law enforcement doesn't get a handle on this, we risk having the HOV lanes choked with ineligible vehicles, and no longer useful enough to be an incentive to share rides.

What do you folks think?

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?

Interstate Commuters

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I live in Bryans Road, Charles County, and travel Route 210 each weekday morning.

I have been noticing more and more vehicles with Virginia license plates heading to D.C. around 5 a.m.

Is there an advantage to living in Maryland and still having Virginia tags?

Mark Fenedick

Bryans Road

When we explored this question before, some readers in Southern Maryland said there were two reasons for this:

(1) Some people were transferred from Crystal City to the naval facility at Patuxent River and apparently haven't changed their license plates.

(2) A large number of Virginia commuters seem to be coming from the Fredericksburg/Northern Neck area, crossing into Maryland via the U.S. Route 301 bridge.

If some of the commuters you are seeing are on Route 210 en route to Washington at 5 a.m., what time must they get up?

What do you folks think?

It's Not the Snow

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.

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

Dr. Gridlock appears Sunday in the Metro section and Thursday in Prince William 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.