Dear Dr. Gridlock:

As I rode to work this morning after the Presidents' Day snowfall, I kept noticing the same thing over and over. All of these folks driving their SUVs and assorted armored personnel carriers kept on zooming past the rest of us slowpokes. But this wasn't what caught my attention. No, it was the fact that virtually none of these people bothered to remove any snow from the roofs of their vehicles.

There were still plenty of regular-size cars covered in snow as well, but it seemed to be much more prevalent on the bigger vehicles. I would guess that more than 80 percent of them still had roofs covered in six inches of snow. At least until they went fast enough that the snow just flies back into the face of the next poor sap.

I'm sure it's more prevalent on the SUVs because they're higher, hence harder to clear of snow. But that's not much of an excuse. As far as I'm concerned, you bought the vehicle, it's your problem to figure out a way to clean it off properly.

People in Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, etc. have been using brooms and plenty of other tricks to clean their trucks off forever. It's not that much extra work.

Justin Hayward

Woodbridge

This is a common complaint about all kinds of vehicles. We really need to make that extra effort to clear the snow off. I use a sponge mop to push the snow across the roof.

No HOV for Two-Seater

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I own a two-seater car and find myself driving on Interstate 95 many times during the rush hour commute. The signs all say the HOV-3 lanes are reserved for three or more people in a vehicle.

I cannot fit three people in my car, so my question to you is if I am at full occupancy with two people in my car, am I allowed to ride in the HOV lanes?

David Trygg

Lake Ridge

Nope.

Rude Behavior

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Years ago, I was driving on Route 28 in Loudoun County when I came up behind a driver in the left lane. He would not move over. I followed him for at least a mile before passing him on the right.

After I pulled into a parking spot at a local park and had removed all my picnic paraphernalia from the trunk, the same driver pulled into a parking spot nearby.

I couldn't resist walking over to him to ask why he wouldn't move to the right to allow me to pass. "I was going the speed limit and, therefore, have a right to drive where I want," was his response. That's the answer!

Jeffrey E. Wood

Manassas

In Virginia, had you signaled with a toot of the horn or flash of your bright lights that you wanted to pass, that person was required by law to move over and let you pass.

I would say left-lane hogging is right up there with the most common complaints to this column.

Growth and Traffic

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The shortsightedness of saying that our traffic problems will be relieved by restricting construction of houses or shopping centers is stunning.

This only results in a higher cost of living, more traffic from people driving farther distances to get affordable housing, and crowded stores and schools.

Todd Skiles

Bristow

Runaway growth also results in more traffic and ever-congested roads. Check the Gainesville area and the impact of traffic there on Route 29 and Interstate 66.

I'd be interested in your solution.

HOV Enforcement

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have read the many complaints about HOV enforcement in Virginia and think I have finally figured out the reason it is so light. I support our state police and agree that they are woefully understaffed and underfunded. The blame should not be laid at their feet.

The blame is on our legislators. The reason Virginia will never raise the fines or really crack down on violators is that if they force the single drivers out of the HOV lanes, the delays that now exist in the main lanes would grow even worse with the added vehicles. Then we would really start complaining about our traffic woes to our legislators and demand that they do something.

As long as there are sections of road and days with "light" traffic, we are less likely to complain, and their jobs in Richmond are safe.

Chris Wanner

Manassas

That's a novel observation. I think that Virginia State Police are simply overwhelmed with the number of violators. Until we get heavy fines to deter the cheaters, the HOV lanes will remain attractive.

What do you folks in Prince William think? Do the HOV lanes move fast enough to make it worthwhile to form carpools?

Praises for Hybrids

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I purchased my Honda Civic Hybrid [gasoline-electric technology] in July, and it has truly changed my life. It used to be that when I left my home in Woodbridge at 8 a.m., I would arrive at my office downtown around 9:30 a.m. Now, with my Hybrid, I can use the HOV lanes, and I am in the office by 8:45 a.m. Similarly, if I leave my office by 5:15 p.m., I can be in my driveway by 6 p.m. I see my kids a lot more these days.

I love my Hybrid. It's a great little car, and I'm saving a bundle on gas. It's not an inexpensive vehicle, but is worth it for its many benefits. The car is a little more expensive to maintain because it takes special oil, but the manual only recommends changing it every 10,000 miles under my kind of driving conditions!

One of your readers raised a question about the July 1, 2004, expiration of the Hybrid HOV exemption in Virginia. I, too, am concerned about maintaining the investment I made in my Hybrid and the HOV exemption that was a significant factor in prompting that investment.

Hybrid owners need to work together to persuade the Virginia General Assembly to continue this exemption. With that in mind, I am offering to start a citizens group to approach the legislature on this issue.

The General Assembly will probably consider legislation in the early 2004 session. That leaves a year for Hybrid owners to make their case. Hybrid owners interested in participating in this effort can e-mail me at hybridonhov@comcast.net.

Todd Ketch

Woodbridge

I believe the General Assembly has already passed an extension of the hybrid exemption for HOV lanes to 2006. But your forming a lobby of hybrid owners seems like a good idea. More power in numbers.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have driven the Honda Civic Hybrid CVT for four months now.

The Civic runs great, with plenty of acceleration with a single occupant. I am consistently getting 35 miles per gallon, not bad for a lead foot. And I love it when the engine turns off at long red lights, but the engine is so quiet and smooth normally that I have to look on the dashboard to know for sure.

The Civic's toot-toot horn clearly announces that I'm a wimp, and I just don't get the same respect as in my old gas-guzzling Ford Exploder.

Your readers should understand that additional fuel and emissions savings are achieved because the electric motor allows use of a lighter, smaller horsepower engine, without seriously compromising the consumer's "need for speed."

Hybrids use regular gasoline, and the electric motor provides horsepower-assist during acceleration or uphill load. The motor becomes a generator that recharges the batteries when coasting or braking, using energy usually wasted as heat.

The generator gives the CVT "automatic transmission" the positive handling characteristics of coasting against compression, an advantage shared with manual transmissions and very handy in traffic congestion.

Honda has incorporated many other tiny improvements that add up to the big fuel savings, a more notable one being the continuously variable transmission (CVT) that never "shifts" gears. Hybrid power plants have a good chance at incorporation into many larger vehicles. These are technologies I felt worth voting for with my pocketbook because they offer a reasonable return on my investment through fuel, time and tax savings, while adding just over $2,000 to my purchase price.

On the subject of incentives, purchase of a new hybrid qualifies for a one-time $2,000 Federal Income Tax deduction (approximately a $400 tax savings, for a 20 percent tax bracket).

And of course, it qualifies for Virginia's Clean Fuel license plate (yellow diamond on left, with green planet inside), leaving room for a six-digit tag ending with CF (unless it is a personal plate).

By the way, when you see a single occupant on HOV, please don't assume they are a violator. They might be an undercover cop or one of a few others permitted according to Virginia Code.

Glenn Cheatham

Manassas

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.