Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I commute daily from Howard County to Largo, driving down I-95 from Route 100. I see Maryland state troopers giving tickets to motorists almost every day, both in the morning and the late afternoon. I don't know why you are receiving so many complaints.

The officers have a very visible presence. Once, last year, I stopped in the median to see if I could rescue a cat, and a trooper pulled up behind me within minutes to see if I needed help. They also frequently have speed traps on Route 100 near I-95 (I can personally attest to this, unfortunately).

Perhaps they would be better deployed to the Beltway in Montgomery County, where I rarely see them on patrol.

A.S. Altman

Ellicott City

Dr. Gridlock is glad to hear the Maryland State Police are out there, somewhere. That seems not to be the case in dealing with violators of the new Route 50 HOV-2 lanes.

Unpredictable Dangers

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I, too, have always been an attentive driver. I watch the other guy closely, keep my distance, am aware of other cars and approach intersections carefully, even when I have the green light.

However, several weeks ago my careful driving came to naught. On a clear day, just after noon, a driver ran a red light at Tamar Drive and Route 175. To compound this, instead of making a left turn, she made a right turn into oncoming Route 175 traffic.

I was struck on the left rear, spinning me across the median and into two lanes of oncoming traffic. Two otherwise careful drivers had no choice but to hit me broadside, demolishing my vehicle. There was quite a tie-up on Route 175 at Tamar Drive. Only by the grace of God did I survive.

Charlotte Hains

Ellicott City

I'm glad you could write me this letter. We just never can imagine what the other guy is going to do. Stay alert.

SUV Stereotypes Unfair

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I'm writing in response to Jody Chase of Rockville, who characterized SUV drivers as unconcerned about safety, cavalier about the environment and unable to maneuver safely and efficiently in traffic.

I have three dogs, two of which are being trained for competition obedience and animal-assisted therapy. I am a dog trainer who frequently transports animals in my SUV. I frequently pick up stray animals who are in danger of getting into traffic.

A station wagon lacks the head clearance tall dogs need; a minivan would not give me a separate area for dogs to be safely confined. The first Japanese automaker to market a hybrid with an SUV-style body will get my business. Until then, I'll continue to drive my Nissan Xterra.

I do not use my SUV as a commuting vehicle. I'm self-employed and work from a home office; it's not unusual for me to go two to three days without driving. I have to be on the Beltway and in the close-in suburbs approximately twice a month.

Mr./Ms. Chase, if you see me there, please don't stereotype me. Some of us have legitimate reasons for driving SUVs. And I guarantee you that if we ever find ourselves sharing road space, you'll find me both capable and courteous.

Brett Warren

Prince Frederick

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

We are the proud owners of a 2001 Ford Excursion. However, we did not purchase it just to be the "biggest and baddest." We use it to pull a 27-foot travel trailer, which weighs nearly 7,500 pounds fully loaded.

There are few, if any, "normal"-size passenger vehicles (or small SUVs) that can safely handle this weight and carry all the associated camping gear. There are also many boat owners who need the passenger room and towing capacity found only on large SUVs.

Everyone driving an SUV is not out to make other drivers "jealous." Some of us actually use the vehicle for its intended purpose of heavy hauling.

Mike and Robin Ponton


What would you have done before SUVs came on the market? For every SUV owner rationalizing a decision to own one, there is a motorist in a conventional-size car who is angry because he can't see around them or because their front lights blind him from behind. I had no idea how angry some motorists are about SUVs.

Driver Behavior at Fault

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In all the letters trying to explain why some drivers won't let SUVs into a traffic lane in front of them, none of them address the real problem, which applies to all drivers, not just SUV drivers: Too many drivers today don't make lane changes safely.

Most of them don't even consider putting on their turn signals. Too many others appear to be taken by surprise that their turn or exit is suddenly just ahead of them. Then there are those who refuse to prepare to exit early enough but stay in the faster lanes until just before their exit, then shoot across multiple lanes of traffic.

Thirty years ago, I was taught in driver's ed to "get the big picture." That meant paying attention to traffic, looking ahead for changes in traffic flow, checking your mirrors and looking over your shoulders often. It meant knowing ahead of time where you were going and preparing by changing lanes early. It meant making sure the lane you wanted to change into was clear, then putting on your turn signal, and making your lane change smoothly by matching the speed of traffic in that lane.

In both the columns of letters you printed on this subject, none of the people who weren't allowed to change lanes describe their own driving behavior. They just blame the other driver's rudeness or competitiveness.

There's no doubt that there are a lot of rude, inconsiderate, overly aggressive and competitive drivers out there, but there are also too many oblivious dreamers who are too self-important to think that their own driving habits may be just as dangerous.

One last comment: It occurs to me that the drivers who would most benefit never think that they're the ones who need to examine their own habits. Most of those drivers probably don't read your column anyway.

Richard H. Kinsch

La Plata

Flags for Funeral Caravans

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Yesterday I survived a harrowing ride to a cemetery from a church funeral service. I wonder if there isn't a better way. Two police officers did a yeoman's job of stopping cars at the crossing intersections, but it just wasn't enough for such a long procession. Other cars entered the line even though the mourners' cars had their lights flashing.

My recommendation is that funeral directors pass out car flags with the word "funeral" imprinted on each, as I believe they did in the past. And the speed should be kept below the limit.

Mary H. Manno


It's a challenge to keep long funeral processions together in metropolitan traffic. Sometimes motorists don't realize they are cutting into one. Dr. Gridlock agrees with your proposal. Flags with suction cups attached over the front headlights or clamped onto the passenger and driver windows would help.

These flags, it seems to me, should be provided by the funeral director and become a cost of the service.

Metro to Dulles? No Way

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Regarding your Dec. 19 column about converting the Washington & Old Dominion bike trail back to a rail line:

Ever since the Dulles Metro extension debate began, I wondered why anyone was even considering extending Metro as far out as Dulles airport. Metro is great for shorter trips inside the Beltway, but the travel times on Metro from most of D.C. out to Dulles airport would be much longer than any business traveler or tourist would consider enduring.

An express train from Dulles to the city running all day, seven days a week, coupled with local commuter rail service as far as Leesburg using the Washington & Old Dominion rail line, would be much faster than Metro and, if properly implemented, could foster the kind of smart growth that Northern Virginia desperately needs.

A Metro line isolated in the canyon of the Dulles Airport Access Road would be a long walk from roadside park-and-ride lots, let alone any uncertain transit-oriented development along the corridor.

London's Heathrow Express, transit service to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris and the AirTrain being developed to serve New York area airports are models for conventional rail service to an airport far removed from the city.

New York and London gave up pretending that their subways provided competitive service. Washington should learn from their mistakes instead of repeating them.

Brian ten Siethoff


Trucks Blocking Traffic

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

At 20th and K streets, UPS trucks are always blocking a lane of traffic as I drive north on 20th Street between 6:30 and 7 p.m. during the week. Sometimes there's even two to three truck drivers blocking traffic as they unload their boxes. That's guaranteed revenue for the city every single night if a parking control aide just sat there and waited.

John Domen

Falls Church

I'll take these up with the appropriate city official, but I need to know which side of the street you are referring to, between which blocks and what the posted signs say about parking or unloading.

I do not believe delivery services should be able to illegally block a lane of rush-hour traffic.

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

Dr. Gridlock appears Sunday in the Metro section and Thursday in Howard Extra. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers to receive e-mail, at, 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.