Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I would like very much to start a dialogue in your column regarding the award-winning book "High and Mighty: SUVs -- The World's Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way." The author documents reasons purchasers of SUVs are considered by the automotive industry to be egotistical, paranoid, gullible saps who are at the mercy of the millions of dollars spent on marketing.

The book presents crash data showing that SUVs are more hazardous to their occupants than are large automobiles, such as the Crown Victoria.

A huge percentage of the advertising revenue of The Washington Post Co. comes from the automotive industry and automotive dealers in this region.

Companies selling SUVs are killing people as surely as the tobacco industry, the asbestos industry and, very likely, the cell phone industry.

Dare we forget the legacy of the Pinto and the Corvair? Dare you take on this travesty?

Peter Whitehead

Alexandria

According to the book jacket, "High and Mighty" shows why SUVs:

* Are no safer for their occupants than cars.

* Have worse brakes than cars.

* Are especially poor choices for teenagers to drive.

* Have a rollover problem that goes far beyond the failures of Firestone tires on Ford Explorers.

The book is written by Keith Bradsher, formerly the New York Times bureau chief in Detroit.

My biggest complaint with SUVs is that their higher headlights strike other drivers at eye level and can cause temporary blindness. Also, from what I've seen on the rollover potential, I wouldn't want my teenager in one.

Your thoughts on SUVs?

Bicycle Commuting

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I commute by bicycle from Lee Highway near the Courthouse Metro stop to 20th and L streets NW. It takes less time than using Metro.

I take the Custis Trail (runs parallel to Interstate 66) across the Key Bridge. From the bridge, I enter tiny Francis Scott Key Park and walk my bike down the stairs and ramp to the street-side path along the C&O Canal. From there, I ride until the trail ends and circle up to Pennsylvania Avenue near the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown. Then the dangerous, adrenaline-rush, life-threatening part of my commute begins.

What I usually do is make the slight left turn onto L Street, which is safer than trying to make it through the "Circle of Death" (Washington Circle).

Elissa David

Arlington

I commend you for an inexpensive commute that is also wonderful exercise.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In passing along help for bicyclists [Dr. Gridlock, March 25], you might have included a map or list of major bike routes, advice from cyclists and references to helpful groups such as the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and www.bikewashington.org.

Jack Cochrane

Bethesda

This column has never suffered from a lack of ideas from bicyclists. I'd like to hear your favorite resources.

Law on Right on Red

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Concerning your advice to give a simple, short toot for those not turning right on red where permitted [Dr. Gridlock, May 6]: I remember reading in your column a long time ago that right turn on red is permissible and not mandatory. In other words, one does not have to turn right on red but can wait for a green light or arrow.

As a result, whenever I am behind cars that are not turning right on red, I do not honk, even briefly, figuring that the driver might be uncomfortable making the turn.

What do law enforcement authorities advise for drivers behind cars that do not turn right on red where traffic permits such a turn?

Rany Simms

Fairfax Station

It's not a question of law, because there is no law that requires a vehicle to turn right on red. One law enforcement source I talked with said he usually gives a slight toot in case the motorist is daydreaming. That's what I do, too.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The law that permits a right turn on red does not require it. Only the driver at the intersection is in a position to determine whether the action is safe.

Honking at the lead vehicle usually does not help, because the most natural response is to look behind, not forward.

Barbara Peters

Annandale

Truck-Congested I-81

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Just a comment on traveling on Interstate 81 as an alternative to the Interstate 95 corridor. If you don't mind sharing the road with lots of 18-wheel trucks, then drive I-81. It is a four-lane divided highway north and south from where I get on it, at Interstate 66, to where it turns into Interstate 40.

For every 10 cars, there are six trucks, which is not great, especially if the weather is not good. Rain is horrible, with the big trucks splashing their spray on you.

Ed White

Annandale

You are so right. I-81 is one of the most popular truck corridors in the country.

The Virginia Department of Transportation is negotiating with a private company, Star Solutions, to make improvements to the corridor that might include new, trucks-only lanes.

The shape, cost and funding of any improvements, plus environmental studies, are matters of discussion at least until the end of this year.

Mid-Block Light a Pain

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The mid-block traffic light on 18th Street between K and L streets NW is a royal pain at 5:30 a.m., when there is no traffic emerging from the private parking garage.

Bill Brykczynski

Fairfax

A private concern bought its own traffic light from the city and stationed it mid-block so garage customers can more easily enter 18th Street. The problem you highlight is one more reason the city should not sell traffic lights.

Above and Beyond

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

There are so many complaints about Metro personnel, but one particular Metro employee went above and beyond, and I hope there is some way to let Metro's management know about it.

On April 9, I got into an empty train car at the Vienna Metro station about 4:15 p.m. Shortly after that, a family of four joined me.

They asked me if the train would take them to Dunn Loring. I told them it would and gestured to the map on the wall. They told me they were so lost they wouldn't understand the map, didn't know where they were and were completely overwhelmed.

I continued to talk to them and learned they are from Staunton and were staying at a hotel in Tysons Corner. They'd entered the Metro system at Dunn Loring and had spent the day sightseeing on the Mall.

On their return, they'd missed getting off at the right station, and when they exited at Vienna and went up the escalator, they didn't recognize the stop at all.

They said they were approached by a Metro employee who said they looked like they needed help -- they didn't even have to ask! She told them to get back on the train and which stop they needed and then called their hotel to have the shuttle meet them at the stop so they wouldn't have to wait, which I thought was especially kind of her.

They got off at Dunn Loring, and I assume they made it back to their hotel uneventfully.

Thought you'd like some good news for a change.

Aubrey Hamilton

Vienna

Always. It is so good when public servants go out of their way to help distressed people.

Metro Emergencies

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I, too, think it is ridiculous to evacuate an entire Metro train and hold up trains all along the line to evacuate a sick passenger [Dr. Gridlock, April 4].

You say you don't want someone dragging you off the train. I don't think anyone would advocate "dragging" anyone off the train, but I see nothing wrong if Metro personnel assisted someone off in a method determined on a case-by-case basis.

Wendell House

Silver Spring

Metro evacuates the car and, in some cases, cleans the car before putting it back in service. Medical professionals handle the treatment of the ill passenger in the car.

I'd hate to be on the receiving end of treatment, and possibly injurious attention, from untrained Metro personnel.

Cell Phone Distractions

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Continuing the discussion on cell phone use while driving, I would like to respond to Andrew Chen [Dr. Gridlock, May 6].

There are many distractions available while driving, some far greater than talking. Putting on makeup and reading are high on that list.

Talking on a cell phone, whether hands-free or not, provides a different kind of distraction from the others Chen cited and from talking with a passenger in one's car.

When eating or smoking, we are performing a basic mechanical function that we have been doing since before we were born: getting our hands to our mouths. When listening to the radio, changing a radio station or CD or even talking to a passenger in the car, we can disengage from those behaviors if the demands of driving require it.

But talking to someone who is not in the car is different. The person on the other end of the cell phone doesn't see what the driver sees and therefore can't know when it is important to stop talking to let the driver concentrate on driving. Also, the degree of distraction almost certainly varies with the importance or intensity of the conversation.

One study several years ago of driver attentiveness while talking on a cell phone used hood-mounted cameras to record driver behavior. It showed that the greatest problem was that drivers dropped their eyes from the road while they concentrated on their conversations!

The more engaging the conversation, the more the listener has to concentrate to try to pick up on the choice of words, phrasing and tone of voice -- all cues that are missing that would otherwise be provided by facial expression, body language and the like.

The more important the conversation -- an emotional one, an important business call, etc. -- the greater the concentration on the call and distraction from driving.

Camilla Stroud

Ellicott City

Thanks for one of the best-articulated letters I've seen on the distinction between cell phone use and other distractions in driving. I agree and think that driving while talking on a phone is dangerous.

Interstates Through Cities

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have been to most major cities in the country, and the one common feature is interstate highways through the middle of the cities. East to west and north to south. Washington and Baltimore are the only exceptions I am aware of.

I remember seeing the original layout of Interstate 95 and it went right through Washington, not around it. I say, put that highway back where it belongs. Also, connect Route 50 to Interstate 395 to help solve the east-to-west problem.

Gerry Ridgeway

Severna Park

I-95 was designed to go through the city, but city leaders decided they didn't want it. So the road money was transferred to the Metro system. Who is to say that was a bad trade?

Is it better to have cities compartmentalized into interstate grids, like Los Angeles, or simply cut in two, like Atlanta, where the state capitol and the Martin Luther King monuments are only a few blocks away but are divided by an interstate highway?

There is little chance that I-95 will now be routed through the nation's capital.

Police Behavior

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

About 6:15 p.m. May 4, I was driving in stop-and-go traffic along Bladensburg Road toward New York Avenue in the District. At one point, as traffic slowed to a halt, the car ahead of me pulled through the intersection of Bladensburg Road and Rand Place NE, and I stopped before the intersection so as not to "block the box."

I looked in my rearview mirror to see where a honking horn was coming from and saw directly behind me a District police officer in his cruiser, gesturing as he honked that I should pull up so he could make the right turn onto Rand Place.

As traffic ahead of me had not moved, I put my hand out the window and pointed over the roof of my car to the prominently posted "Do Not Block the Intersection" sign. In response, he turned on the cruiser's flashing lights and blared the siren as he continued to gesture.

Luckily, at almost the same moment, traffic moved and I was able to pull ahead without having to ponder whether to stand on principle.

Two blocks later, the same cruiser pulled out in front of me while turning back onto Bladensburg Road from T Street and then turned into the gas station at Bladensburg Road and New York Avenue to stop at the convenience store there.

Some kind of doughnut emergency, I suspect, caused him to abuse his authority to beat a couple of blocks of traffic and encourage a law-abiding resident to break it.

Steve Daigler

Annapolis

Are you a confrontational driver? If a police officer gestures to move ahead, I'd do it pronto and save the lessons about not blocking the box.

I'd give police the benefit of the doubt. Assume that they are responding to something and that the apparent doughnut stop is really an officer looking for a suspect. That's my way of coping with police activities that seem not in character with police work.

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

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