Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I continue to be amazed at the folks complaining about how hard it is to back out of a parking space when surrounded by larger vehicles. If they run into that situation often, why do they continue to pull into the spaces front first?

The answer to their self-described "dangerous" situation is rather obvious. It is far easier and safer to pull out of a space moving forward rather than backward. So, why don't these people either pull through to the adjoining spot or just simply back into the desired spot?

Both methods allow for a safe and easy exit. If they find that too hard to do, they probably shouldn't be allowed a driver's license.

I almost always back into parking spaces and have never had a problem pulling out of one because of limited visibility. I've heard people complain that they can't do that, because as soon as they pass the space to begin backing in, another car behind them just pulls into the space. That can be avoided by making your intentions very clear: using turn signals or hand gestures or blocking the space until those behind you have gone around.

I'm not a big fan of SUVs either, but it appears that people are using any selfish excuse they can find just to join the SUV-bashing fad instead of using a little common sense and adjusting their own habits slightly.

Stephen Pfeiffer

Herndon

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

When I was a college intern, the company I worked for had only back-in parking lots. You were not allowed to park your car by driving straight in; you had to put the car in reverse to park.

The result: When pulling out of a parking space, you are always looking through your front windshield and able to see any potential hazards.

I have continued the practice of back-in parking for 15 years and have not had any problems leaving a parking space, even when flanked by two large SUVs.

An alternative to back-in parking is to pull through two adjacent parking spaces so you are parked facing out.

Marybeth Henry

Herndon

I hear you and appreciate your thoughts to take control of a dangerous situation. Some folks, however, find backing in takes more skill and effort and tests the patience of horn-honking others in the aisle.

I prefer finding empty tandem spaces and pulling through, or parking on the fringe, where there are more empty spaces.

Carts and Shoppers

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Shopping carts for rent can be found not only in San Francisco and Philadelphia but in our own area.

Aldi, a grocery store in the Mount Vernon Shopping Center in Fairfax County, has new carts that can be used for a quarter. In my five years of shopping there, I have yet to find a stray cart in the parking lot.

Michael J. Guignard

Kingstowne

That sounds like a helpful solution, until grocery stores begin sending helpers to unload our shopping carts and return them to the store, a practice that can be found at some Safeways here, and elsewhere.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

It is certainly true that, for a mere quarter deposit on a shopping cart, many "busy commuters would simply leave their cart in the parking lot, forfeiting the coin," as you suggested in your column of May 6.

The beauty of the system is that many arriving shoppers would be happy to corral a "free" cart and then earn a small profit by returning it to the proper place after use and collecting the deposit.

Or kids with a little free time might score some pocket change by rounding up abandoned carts and returning them to the nest.

Either way, the carts find their way off the lot and back to their proper location.

I've seen this system used in Wilmington, Del. A common occurrence there is for an arriving shopper to hand a quarter to a departing shopper in exchange for the cart that has just been emptied, bypassing the nesting and un-nesting process altogether.

Charles Luckett

Manassas

Makes sense. Thanks for the report.

Better Place to Park

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In response to Steve Rothenberg's letter regarding parking space pilferers at Tysons Corner, I would like to suggest an option [Dr. Gridlock, May 13].

About two years ago, at Christmastime, an employee at one of the large department stores in the mall mentioned to me that rather than wait for a parking spot right in front of the store, which can be extremely frustrating, he heads up to the top floor of the parking garage, where he never has a problem finding a spot.

I've been doing it ever since, and it makes all the difference in the world.

Joseph E. Young

Alexandria

Less stress, too. Thank you for that tip.

Road Hazards

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The inner loop of the Beltway from just before the George Washington Parkway exit to the American Legion Bridge is growing a large crop of deep potholes that are getting worse by the week. Cars are swerving and weaving to avoid them, making a bad situation even more dangerous.

Does Virginia have any plans to fill these hazards anytime soon?

Robert Villeneuve

Rockville

This should qualify as an emergency fix for the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), which should have been out there already to make at least temporary patches.

Maybe VDOT doesn't know about it. To report potholes, call 703-383-VDOT.

Officials promise to send workers immediately to emergencies and to respond within 72 hours to lesser problems.

Handicap Parking

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I would like to respond to Dave McDonald of Woodbridge, who has noticed people with valid handicap plates or parking placards parking in handicap spaces and walking "briskly" into the store [Dr. Gridlock, May 13].

He notes that these people are "seemingly healthy, mobile individuals" who "don't have obvious disabilities," or a disability "was not readily apparent." The operative words in his letter are "seemingly," "obvious" and "readily." He further notes that he saw someone in a wheelchair have to park farther out.

The lack of sufficient handicap parking is not the fault of people with disabilities who reached the space before the person in the wheelchair. It is the product of lack of planning by the stores, shopping centers and malls.

There are many disabilities that do not require the use of wheelchairs or other devices. The requirements for placards and plates include a doctor's certification that the person has a disability.

There are many people who have physical limitations that would not be visible, yet limit mobility a great deal. I know of several people who, because of multiple sclerosis or fibromyalgia, may have little problem making it into the store from the handicap spaces but can barely make it back after shopping without a great deal of pain. Even "running in" to the store to pick up a medication refill can cause great pain.

Please trust that the DMV does not allow any person who just walks in from the street to get the handicap parking plates or hangtags.

Cathi Simone

Alexandria

There is some confusion over who qualifies for handicap parking and about the difference between hanging placards and license plates and who can use each, so I've consulted Marcia Meredith, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. Here's what she says:

A person who wants to qualify for handicap parking status must fill out a DMV form, Med10, that's available at branches and on the DMV Web site, www.dmv.state.va.us.

A doctor must certify the disability, whether permanent or temporary. Among the criteria the DMV stipulates to doctors is that the patient must have a condition that limits or impairs movement or the ability to walk, which can include heart or lung disease, or a condition that creates a safety concern, such as blindness, deafness or Alzheimer's disease. There are other conditions.

Once the form is filled out by the applicant and the doctor, the DMV will automatically issue the handicap tags or placard. The DMV, by law, cannot reject an applicant with a properly filled out form, Meredith said.

People with permanent disabilities may choose either a blue portable placard to hang from the rearview mirror or a handicap license plate. In either case, the person must be in the designated vehicle for it to occupy a handicap space.

Permanently disabled status expires in five years and must be renewed. Temporary placards, which are red, are good for six months. There are also green placards for institutional, nonprofit vehicles that transport people with disabilities.

Anyone who suspects the abuse of a handicap plate or placard can report the license plate to the DMV at 804-367-6602 and the agency will investigate, Meredith said.

My sense is that proper use is based on the honor system. I hope we are all being honorable.

Calming Solution?

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Road rage is one of the area's most dangerous problems. I think drivers are listening to the radio and hearing the latest news, weather, stock market and traffic conditions, generally all bad situations. Is it any wonder that drivers are in a rage?

Let's lobby for some soft, soothing commuter music. Who can be angry listening to Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett? Everyone will relax, calm down, smile at the driver in the next car and enjoy the ride.

Helen Heneghan

Rockville

If only it were so simple. Maybe that's one way to enjoy our commutes. Others say audio-books can be a pleasant diversion.

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.

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