Dear Dr. Gridlock:

One of your readers commented on the danger of being broken down on the shoulders of the Beltway. She said if she couldn't get her vehicle far away from traffic whizzing by, she would head for the woods and wait for help.

I will never park on a Beltway shoulder again. Here is my story:

I got a flat tire and pulled onto the shoulder to fix it. Two Maryland state troopers (in one cruiser) pulled over to cover me. Then, moments later, there was a loud explosion and I was covered with broken glass.

An old man had fallen asleep at the wheel and plowed into the state police cruiser. A female trooper, who had just exited the car, was flung down an embankment. A male trooper behind the wheel was injured. Fortunately, both troopers recovered. The cruiser was wrecked.

If the troopers had not offered me shelter, I wouldn't be here to write this message.

So I suggest that if your disabled car is drivable, take the next Beltway off-ramp and pull off on a secondary road. We all know that there is no safe spot on the Beltway.

Peter Lo

Bethesda

I salute the Maryland state troopers who came to your aid, and I agree with your views on safety. Get off the Beltway if at all possible; if not, wait for help away from your vehicle.

Any more stories about the danger of Beltway shoulders?

The Belgian Example

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I think Metro should take a look at how the escalators work in the Brussels subway system. As a rider approaches the escalator, he/she steps on a sensor, similar to doors at a supermarket, and the escalator begins operating.

If no riders are using the escalator after a set period of time, then the escalator shuts off, saving wear and tear.

Do you think this idea would work with Metro, or would it be another piece of machinery that would break down?

Justin Hoffman

Washington

I've received similar letters about subway escalators in Italy and Germany. Makes sense to me, particularly since we have such a fragile escalator system. However, Metro has already dismissed the idea.

Metro was built escalator-dependent, partly because there is such a steep climb out of many stations. However, as we all know, the escalators are broken all too often, and the customers are left to trudge up and down stairs anyway.

Last year, Metro CEO Richard A. White commissioned a blue-ribbon panel of outside experts to study the chronic escalator/elevator repair problem and recommend fixes once and for all. However, the study recommendations offended Metro mechanics.

If there's light at the end of this tunnel, I don't see it. Sorry.

Compensating a Samaritan

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

One cold, rainy night in Brooklyn, our minivan battery died. A good Samaritan cleaned the corrosion off our terminals with a wire brush and tried (without success) to jump start us, using his cables.

My wife and I had a disagreement over how much to pay the person. One of us said, "Twenty dollars," and the other said, "Five dollars is plenty."

How much money should I offer someone who stops to jump start my car? Should I offer more if it is at night? If it's raining? If I'm in the middle of nowhere? If the jumper provides the cables? If the jumper must leave his car in traffic while jumping?

Paul Franklin Stregevsky

Poolesville

Usually, Samaritans refuse to accept money. Still, it is good form to offer. My suggestion would be $25 to $50 an hour. Consider what the cost of towing would be (if you could summon a tow truck).

What do you folks think?

Courtesy Is International

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Patti Barry's experience with the truck driver behind her who turned off his headlights at a stoplight reminded me of my tour of duty in Japan.

Ever concerned with their fellow citizens, the Japanese turned off their headlights when stopped at traffic lights. If only we could do the same, it would reduce a lot of road stress.

George Vercessi, Captain, USN (Ret.)

Alexandria

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 telephone numbers. Dr. Gridlock cannot take phone calls.