Suppose you hit an unattended vehicle in a parking lot. Are you required to leave your name? To call police? This is the subject of today's column.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My wife and I are getting the short end of the stick on parking lot fender benders, and I'm hoping you can clarify what we should be doing.

I was under the impression that if you run your car into someone else's car in a parking lot and cause damage, you are legally (and morally) obligated to either find the owner of the other car to exchange information or to leave a note with your information on the other car.

A few years ago, we damaged another car in a parking lot, found the owner and spent around $1,000 fixing his car.

Well, in the past six months, my wife and I have had two cars bashed in parking lots in the D.C. area (one in Southern Maryland; the other in Northern Virginia). Both times the guilty party just took off.

No effort was made to find us or leave a note on our damaged vehicle. So, in addition to paying when we are at fault, we (and our insurance company) have had the privilege of paying when others are at fault.

Are people no longer expected to take responsibility for parking lot accidents if there aren't any witnesses?

The next time I accidentally bash someone's car in a parking lot, should I just glance around to make sure no one is watching, then drive off?

Michael Personette

Fairfax

Not unless you want to risk a hit-and-run charge. Maryland, the District and Virginia require motorists in such situations to identify themselves or face hit-and-run charges.

In Virginia, the law says you have to try to find the owner and, if unsuccessful, leave your name and driver's license number on the struck vehicle, according to Matt Martin, spokesman for the Arlington police. In either case, you have to report the incident to police, Martin said. This is from the Virginia Code, Title 46.2, Section 896, covering hit-and-run incidents.

Unlike Virginia, Maryland and the District do not always require the motorist to call police.

According to Lucille Bower, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery County police, a driver in Maryland who strikes an unattended vehicle "is required to locate the owner and, if not possible, then he is required to leave a written note that contains the name and address of the driver causing the damage, the registration number of the vehicle he is driving, and . . . insurance information, to include the name and address of the carrier, policy and identifying number and the name and address of the local insurance office." This is from the Maryland Vehicle Law, Title 20, Section 105.

Whew. By the time a person does that, the owner of the other vehicle may well have returned, and insurance information can simply be exchanged (and, we hope, nothing more).

In the District, the law requires the motorist at fault to leave identifying information on the damaged vehicle or to notify police.

For some reason, I always thought that leaving your identifying information was the right thing to do but was an option, sort of like being a good Samaritan. However, I now see that it is required by law and that there can be serious consequences to just driving away.

Sidewalk Is for Walking

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I live in historic Foggy Bottom, where several neighbors routinely park over a public sidewalk.

This particularly concerns me because of the nuisance such parking causes people with disabilities. I have seen wheelchair-bound individuals, and those using walkers, forced to walk in the street to get around vehicles parked on sidewalks.

Can you help?

Milton O. (Mel) Maeda

Washington

Public sidewalks do not belong to any individual. Obstructing them is against the law in the District, Maryland and Virginia.

Note the locations and license plates and call 202-727-1000, the city's all-purpose complaint number. Get a tracking number. If nothing is done in one month, contact me again.

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.