Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In your April 29 column, Thomas E. McEntee suggests that roundabouts should be installed in Virginia. He praises them as an alternative to traffic signals and notes their frequent use in England. Such is the case in many European countries.

I drive through traffic circles every day in Maryland and rarely find them safe. Only once every few days do I see anyone signal in the circle, and "right of way" may as well be translated as "be as aggressive as possible without damaging your car."

Although circles may be efficient and effective in a system where drivers are taught proper rules and courtesy, using them at gridlocked intersections in the D.C. area is a well-intended but risky venture.

Daniel Hoult

College Park

I'm wondering if traffic circle protocol is taught in driver education classes. For driving tips, visit www.marylandroads.com.

Alternative Route

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Can you repeat your recommended route for avoiding the New York City-New Jersey area? I am planning a trip from Cheverly to Middletown, Conn.

Sheila Salo

Cheverly

From Cheverly, take Interstate 95 north to the Baltimore Beltway (I-695) and head north to the I-83 exit (York, Pa.). Proceed north on I-83 to I-81 north (Hazleton, Scranton, Pa.), and follow I-81 to I-84 east at Scranton.

Travel I-84 east across part of New York, crossing the Hudson River at Newburgh, and proceed into Connecticut. The simplest route to Middletown is I-84 east to I-91 south at Hartford, then connecting to state Route 9 to Middletown. There are secondary roads to Middletown from I-84 that would save you some mileage, but you'd need to consult a map.

This route might be longer, but it is certainly more scenic and less expensive.

Good luck, and let me know how it works out.

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 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 capital 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.

Ninth Street Bridge

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Do you have any info on the Ninth Street bridge in Northeast Washington? I used to use it every weekday.

Brad Piepmeier

Bethesda

City officials tell me the bridge should be reopened by tomorrow. Some foundation erosion has caused it to be closed temporarily for repairs.

Dangers of SUVs

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, former 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?

High Gas Prices

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I'd like to call to your attention a letter in the April 8 Washington Post by Thomas A. Firey, a senior fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute.

He cites two Maryland state laws that needlessly cause higher gas prices: one prohibiting refining companies from owning and operating their own gas stations and another prohibiting retailers such as Sheetz from lowering gas prices below a statewide average "wholesale price."

These laws are absolutely outrageous. And with prices for regular gas approaching $2 a gallon, the only thing likely standing in the way of their repeal is public awareness of this gross misuse of government power to enrich private interests.

Surely a Republican governor couldn't defend government price controls, right?

Jim Cohen

Bethesda

The needle on my outrage meter is moving. Anyone have anything to add?

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.

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.