Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I recently received a ticket from a District of Columbia police officer who failed to signal and cut me off as I drove eastbound on Constitution Avenue.

I tapped my horn once and hit my brakes, fortunate that I was not being tailgated. When I honked, the police car moved to the left lane, again without signaling, then moved behind me, again without signaling. He then turned on his flashing lights, and I pulled over.

After asking for my license and registration, he indignantly asked why I had honked my horn. I said that he had cut me off and hadn't signaled. He curtly asked what the emergency was, since it is against the law in the District to use one's horn in a non-emergency.

I said that not signaling and not providing ample room to merge in front of me could have caused an accident, and I felt at risk.

He continued, in a very confrontational manner, that it was against the law in Washington to use a horn in a non-emergency. I said I believed it was against the law to change lanes without signaling.

He said that he did signal. Both my passenger and I responded that he had not.

Then the officer said maybe the turn signal was broken. I said that I believed it was also illegal to drive with broken signals.

He went to his car and returned a few minutes later to give me my license, registration and a traffic ticket on which he wrote "Unnecessary Noise (non- emergency) Horn."

I then said to the officer that, since he had suggested that maybe his turn signal was broken, I would like to see for myself, because I was going to challenge the ticket. He said he would not turn it on.

I feel unjustly charged and treated brusquely by the officer. In addition to finding sections on safe passing and the use of turn signals in the D.C. Municipal Code, I found a section that permits a driver to use a horn "when reasonably necessary to ensure safe operation." However, another section states that "no vehicle shall be operated or used in such a manner as to cause unnecessary or disturbing noise."

Does being cut off by another driver, who also failed to signal, justify the use of one's horn?

I will be challenging this in court but will be forced to take time off work to defend myself against a charge that I believe shouldn't have been made in the first place.

Am I missing something?

Jim Goldwater

Fairfax County

Let's look to the animal kingdom for guidance. I have a miniature pinscher (mini-pin) the size of a loaf of bread. She will charge huge dogs that get near her territory. Then, after realizing she is overmatched, she will roll over on her back in a submissive position. Nobody gets hurt.

In this case, the police officer is the big dog. He's got a badge, a gun and a ticket book. By tooting at him, questioning his driving and asking to see his turn signals, you were challenging him.

If you had rolled over and agreed with him (even if you didn't really agree), you might have avoided a ticket and a court date. Are you really going to win an argument with an officer who has already cut you off, then pulled you over and whipped out a ticket book because you had tooted at him?

I don't get stopped often, but this is what I do: Address the officer with yes sir, no sir. When he says what you did wrong, agree completely and say you knew better than that. If you treat the officer respectfully and roll over, there is no need for him to ticket you to win an argument. Most times, I've gotten off with a warning.

Let me know what happens to you in court, Mr. Goldwater. Good luck, sir.

At Least It's Not Sewage

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Every single day for the last five years, I have noticed tea-colored droplets falling from the Route 212 (Riggs Road) overpass onto the number 2 lane of the Capital Beltway outer loop. Is it sewage?

Linda Carroll

Montgomery Village

It's rusty water, leaking from conduit lines beneath a manhole cover on Riggs Road. Maryland highway officials are working on it.

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

You can write to Dr. Gridlock at 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers e-mails at drgridlock@washpost.com or faxes at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening telephone numbers. Dr. Gridlock cannot take phone calls.