Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am curious about two cameras with bright lights along Maryland highways that don't appear to be normal traffic cameras.

One is attached to an overhead sign on the southbound side of Interstate 95 just south of the Route 32 interchange. Along with the camera is a bright light that shines directly down into one of the center lanes at night.

The other camera setup is along the southbound side of Route 29 near Columbia, just south of the Route 32 interchange. It is attached to a signpost in the median and also includes a bright light that shines directly on the lanes of traffic.

The camera and light are mounted rather low, so the light is very distracting to traffic at night.

There is no indication of a regular traffic camera anywhere near that vicinity. Is it possible Maryland is testing out speed cameras in those locations?

Brooke Rector

Laurel

There are four cameras -- two on I-95 southbound and two on Route 29 southbound -- all taking pictures of the rear of vehicles (not designed to distract motorists). This is a $100,000 pilot project to determine how long it takes to travel a certain distance on I-95 vs. parallel Route 29, where there are three construction projects.

Eventually, the state may be able to post travel time electronically to give motorists a choice. Results are expected by the end of this year.

Questionable Plates

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Hi, Dr. Gridlock. I'm 14, and I noticed an inappropriate license plate.

In health class at Pyle Middle School, we discussed drugs, and one of them was ecstasy.

I was in the car, and I noticed a Maryland farm license plate that had the letters XTC. I thought that might be inappropriate to some people because it might mean a drug. Thank you very much.

Anton Majewski

Chevy Chase

Thanks for being alert to possible license plate abuse, Anton. I'm impressed. Put it in your college application.

Here's what I found out from Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration spokesman Jeff Tosi:

The MVA will review and reject any vanity license plate that is flat-out offensive. However, because there are so many requests for vanity plates, there is no paper trail that tells us whether a plate has been reviewed. A reviewer told Tosi that the XTC plate probably did not raise any questions. It could be someone's initials or refer to a loved one, Tosi said.

Vanity plate applicants who fill out the required MVA form VR-164 are not asked the reason for wanting a particular plate. If a request is rejected, the applicant can ask for a hearing and explain the request, Tosi said.

This is a tricky area. Consider this: There is a Maryland plate out there that has generated numerous complaints to the MVA. It is "COPSLIE." That plate was reviewed by the MVA legal counsel's office and found acceptable because of free speech considerations.

Myself, I think both XTC and COPSLIE should be rejected, but I'm not the authority here.

To report a questionable plate, contact the MVA at 800-950-1MVA or log on to www.marylandmva.com and click on "e-mail us." Either way, you should trigger a review and get a response, Tosi said.

Adding Metro Parking

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Why would Metro close the lot where the new parking garage is to be built at New Carrollton if no construction has started?

It has been closed for weeks, and the only discernible activity has been the erection of a chain-link fence to keep people out.

Lawrence D. Quinn

Crofton

I understand your concern. Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein says work is underway, but some of it, such as surveying and other site preparation, might not be obvious.

When completed in November 2005, the 1,850-space parking garage will about double the number of available parking spots at New Carrollton. That is good news for commuters.

'Lessons' Stop Short

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have followed your column for years, and though I have had strong opinions about many topics, the driving school situation has prompted my first letter.

Hours of "classroom lessons" seem to bore our teenagers. I sent my new driver out for the first two of her six hours of behind-the-wheel instruction. I got back a form neatly checked off that she was doing okay, and she announced she had driven to D.C. from Montgomery County.

So I happily got into the car with her to see how well she was driving, and she could not get out of the driveway and down the street.

After the second "lesson," I got a verbal reprimand from the "instructor," who said that it was not his job to teach her how to drive (silly me), but that once I had taught her to navigate the streets safely, he would teach her to parallel park and pass her test.

It appears that a "two-hour driving lesson" means getting in the car and to the next student and back within two hours' time.

I have gone from letting her drive in an empty parking lot to one with a few cars and to streets with little traffic, and one day hope to get her ready for her final "driving lesson" from the school.

Each time I venture out, I wish we had a student driver sign to display to warn the other motorists to watch out for us. There are places where new and learning drivers must have such signs in the back window to warn others to be more aware and patient. I would feel a lot safer knowing others knew to be more careful. An added benefit to a displayed sign: It would be a good way to curb curfew violators.

Good luck in trying to improve the driving school situation. This really could be a life-and-death matter.

Sharon Atlshul

Silver Spring

You're so right. Teaching driver education is one of the most important things parents can do for their children. It can be life or death.

That is why I dismiss these driving schools. They are not going to teach anyone to drive in six hours of behind-the-wheel training. The real work will have to be done by the parents, putting their charges into every conceivable situation until the parents feel confident the teenagers are ready to drive solo.

I recommend at least 1,000 miles of interstate highway driving and 1,000 miles of city and suburban driving in our area. That can take one to two years and probably means the student is not going to get a license on his or her 16th birthday. So much the better.

New drivers need extensive training in merging, Beltway driving and what to do in a traffic circle. They also must learn how to use the mirrors, turn right or left into the correct lane and pass a slow-moving vehicle on a two-lane road.

Then there is how to correct properly when the right tires go off the roadway; overcorrecting and losing control is a leading cause of teen driving deaths.

Teens need to experience driving in the rain, at night and on snowy and icy roads. They need to know what to do about tailgaters, horn honkers or light flashers behind them. And what to do when an animal jumps in front of the vehicle or an insect appears inside. A teen driver swatting at a bee veered into a head-on collision recently in Silver Spring.

My first daughter stampeded me into allowing her to get her license at age 161/2, without going through all of the above. That was a mistake. I took my time with my second daughter, and she got her license at 171/2, after extensive training, to the point that she was pointing out my driving mistakes.

It seems you are tuned into the situation, Ms. Atlshul. You are asking the right questions. My advice to parents is to provide the training themselves. Don't rely on a school, and don't be stampeded into allowing a license until you are comfortable your children are ready.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In your April 25 column, you asked about a good driving school.

I am 15 and just finished taking driver's education from the Allegany Driving School, which offers classes in Frederick and Montgomery counties. The class was held within walking distance of my high school and seemed to fulfill the state requirements.

We did not waste classroom time by starting late or ending early. We were in the classroom for three hours twice a week, for five weeks. The content of the class was basic, but it was thorough enough to allow us to pass the final written state exam.

On the scheduled driving day, the instructor would meet the student at the high school with the driving school's car.

If the student could not schedule a time for driving during the five weeks, the instructor would let him or her schedule driving after the whole course had ended and a new session had begun.

The instructor made sure that everyone went driving with him for the required six hours and passed the driving portion of the class. Nobody was allowed to get away with missing driving days, and if they did, they had to pay the instructor $40 for the time that he spent waiting for them.

For a class that cost my parents $280, it was not bad. Some days, the classroom lesson was boring, but the driving portion was practical and included a variety of situations, from rural roads to highways and the narrow one-way streets of downtown Frederick.

Overall, I learned the basics of driving during the course. Now, my parents will continue to be the primary teachers.

To add to your list of things that need to be practiced, I suggest: busy traffic circles, Bay Bridge toll booths, crossing the Bay Bridge, and crossing narrow, single-lane covered bridges.

Thank you for writing your column each week.

Christa Allen

Thurmont

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.