Dear Dr. Gridlock:

How does VDOT get the information for its electronic signs warning of delays on Interstate 66?

I travel daily along this road, and quite often I am advised of delays that either don't exist when I get there or are in a different place. I would like to depend on the signs, but they are unreliable. Any ideas?

David Isaacson


During a recent chat on, 80 percent of the respondents in a poll said they found the electronic messaging signs useless.

VDOT spokesman Ryan Hall says the information basically is obtained from 120 cameras the agency has positioned on all Northern Virginia interstate highways. If you would like to visit the Traffic Management Center in Arlington, the brains of this operation, let me know and maybe we can set up a group tour with Dr. Gridlock.

Irked by Illegal Signs

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I was driving south on the Fairfax County Parkway and stopped at its intersection with Fox Mill Road. I looked over at one of those annoying roadside signs, and it said: "Texas Hold 'em No Limit Cell: [phone number deleted]."

Is it legal to advertise a poker game on the side of the road in Virginia? That strikes me as one of the more ludicrous things I have seen in this area. If it isn't illegal, it should be.

I spoke to several people, and everyone seems to think that is wrong. What is the law in Virginia, and what do you think of this?

Mary Simpson


Posting signs on VDOT property, including shoulders, medians and signposts, is illegal. However, VDOT does not enforce those laws. Instead, the agency removes the signs for mowing and periodically pulls them off signposts.

They are annoying. Who needs to be stuck in gridlock and faced with a sign that says: "Lose 40 pounds? Call XXX-XXXX."

School Zone Boundaries

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I reside in Northern Virginia and am curious as to why, whenever I slow for flashing lights at a school zone, there never seems to be another sign down the road to advise when I can resume normal speed.

The only way that I am aware that I have passed through this reduced-speed zone is to scan the other side of the roadway for the corresponding sign that is advising drivers of the reduced speed in the opposite lanes, and that, of course, means I have to momentarily shift my view from the road before me -- an unnecessary and seemingly dangerous maneuver!

John Mileo


Some schools have such signs, and some don't. The reason is this: The school systems set up the notification to slow for school zone signs, but VDOT is responsible for posting the "end" signs, and it does so only if the school system requests it, according to VDOT's Hall.

With such a patchwork system, it's no wonder you aren't seeing the end signs. In a better world, each school zone would have them.

P.S.: According to Hall, you cannot be cited for speeding through a school zone if the zone does not have the sign designating the end.

Teaching Teens to Drive

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Regarding "Driver Schools Fail the Test" [Dr. Gridlock, April 25], I recommend that your readers refer to the driver's education resources offered through the Virginia Department of Education:

The Web site offers an excellent and comprehensive guide for driver's education in Virginia, as well as a 40-hour parent/teen driver guide.

I am also available to answer readers' questions about the quality of driver's education instruction in Virginia. Thank you.

Rich Miller

Coordinator, Driver Education

George Mason University


Thank you for that generous offer.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My daughter and I both attended and thoroughly enjoyed the defensive driver training course given by BSR Driving School in Summit Point, W.Va.

The defensive driving course, where you learn to brake, skid and stop on both dry and wet pavement at normal driving speeds, is excellent and one I would highly recommend for anyone, especially teenagers, before they ever hit the road alone.

Suzi Rine


BSR, just over the Loudoun County line near Charles Town, W.Va, is one of the schools that offer a one-day defensive driving course. I have received excellent feedback. The number is 304-725-6512.

Another is Car Guys of Rockville, 800-800-GUYS (4897).

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 the District 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's 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/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 sounds like 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.

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, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, town, county and day and evening phone numbers.