Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I had not received a ticket since I retired, some 20 years ago, until this past week. My wife says I drive too slowly and let everybody pass me, but I'm seldom in a hurry and follow advice given in defensive driving courses.
After doing our monthly shopping at Fort Belvoir, I was returning on Fairfax County Parkway. Around 1 p.m., an officer pulled me over near Hooes Road (at the bottom of a downhill slope) for going 66 mph in a 50-mph zone.
The officer politely gave me a summons, which unbelievably translated to a $137 ticket.
The county could make millions if it maintained or enforced these criteria, especially during rush hours. Am I an isolated victim or should the speed limit be increased?
It bugs me a little when police set a speed trap at the bottom of a hill. They should take speed readings on a straightaway, or around a curve, for a more honest result.
But it doesn't matter what the speed should be, Mr. Smith. If speed limits were set according to prevailing speeds, we might be surrounded with quite high speed limits, including in neighborhoods.
In this case, the speed limit is posted at 50 mph. Sorry about your misfortune.
Defer to Ambulances
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Have the rules regarding the right of way for emergency vehicles changed over the years? I thought that if you see or hear an approaching ambulance you must either stop or move out of the way (if you are at an intersection), pull over (if you are on either side of an undivided roadway or if you are on the same side on a divided roadway) or slow down and be ready to stop. And you must stay back quite a ways once emergency vehicles have passed.
The practice around here seems to be: Move reluctantly, or not at all, if it sort of appears the emergency vehicle can pass okay; take your foot off the gas for a sec; and once it has passed you, resume full speed ahead.
The other day I was near George Washington Hospital and two ambulances were coming, with lights flashing, so I stopped gently at a green light well clear of the hospital entrance.
Some guy (also clear of the entrance) screeched his wheels behind me, pulled around me and started yelling and gesticulating at me for stopping.
Was I supposed to keep going, assuming that the ambulances were headed for the hospital? I didn't think the law gave a motorist the ability to presuppose the ambulance driver's intentions.
You should try to make way for emergency equipment by pulling to the right shoulder or the left, depending on the circumstance. Usually, you should not pull into an intersection to clear a path.
Ambulance drivers report that motorists often do not make way for them and even clog the emergency (shoulder) lanes. That is a shame.
When New to Virginia
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Regarding the "wipers on, lights on" law in this area: I believe you should include the recommendation that new residents pick up a "rules of the road" book at the Department of Motor Vehicles when changing their license and registration from another state and read it.
There may be a lot more than just the wipers-and-lights law that a new resident needs to be aware of.
Good point. Some residents complain there aren't enough signs to explain traffic laws, particularly new ones. They can learn about rules of the road by picking up the "Virginia Driver's Manual" at offices of the DMV or by logging on to www.dmvnow.org. Click on "Forms and Publications" and "New to Virginia" for information about tags and registration.
Contacts at VDOT
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
In your June 27 column, you presented details from a lunch you'd had with Maryland Department of Transportation officials, including Neil Pedersen, Dave Buck and Valerie Burnette Edgar.
Who are their Virginia counterparts and where can I get more information about traffic management and the engineers doing the planning?
The counterparts are Philip Shucet, highway commissioner, and Joan Morris and Ryan Hall, spokesmen. You can monitor some of their activities by logging on to www.virginiadot.org.
Enforcing HOV Lanes
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I genuinely believe the Virginia State Police are dedicated to doing their best to enforce the high-occupancy vehicle, or HOV, guidelines, but their job is nearly impossible without the cooperation and compliance of motorists.
Perhaps a friendly reminder in your column every once in a while would help get the message out.
Mark E. Connolly
Voluntary compliance is necessary. So are increased fines. As of July 1, fines were raised to $500 for repeat violations.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Whenever I read about multi-mile backups on the Beltway caused by an accident, I can just imagine how many people are inconvenienced. Sure, I feel sorry for those involved in the accident, and I'm all for those emergency personnel who rush to their assistance. However, it seems that no one is concerned about the others who can't get to where they are going.
How about this for a solution? If an accident occurs on the Beltway between Exits A and B, the authorities would block the Beltway at Exit A and direct approaching motorists to get off the Beltway at that exit. They also would not let anyone onto the Beltway at Exit A if the motorists were headed toward the accident scene.
Motorists stuck between Exit A and the accident scene would be allowed to make a U-turn on their side of the Beltway and, with a police escort using the shoulder of the road, be led back to Exit A so they could get off the Beltway.
Of course the challenge for those not familiar with adjoining or parallel roads would be to get back onto the Beltway at Exit B.
That's when the nearest "Beltway Patrol Volunteer Unit," monitoring the police radio frequency, would spring into action. It would determine the best route for those motorists and set up distinctive "Beltway Detour" signs at key turning points. The volunteers would remain at those sign positions to assist motorists as long as needed.
Well, I'll give you an A for creativity. We're going to need ideas like that as we get more and more congestion.
I got caught once trying to get onto the Beltway at Braddock Road when there was a tractor-trailer accident at the Springfield Interchange. The Beltway on-ramps were closed at Braddock Road, and traffic was diverted through Annandale and on eastbound Duke Street.
We motorists can use all the help we can get.
But how would you get volunteers to the scene and coordinated for a run-of-the mill accident?
Flee Maniac Motorists
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Yesterday, as I was on my daily commute home from work, I had a confrontation with a very aggressive driver (who had a child in the back seat). This was not on the Beltway or the Greenway, but in my own community of Ashburn.
I was waiting to make a left turn at a stoplight. There was a single left-turn lane onto Ashburn Farm Road, which is a four-lane road.
When the light turned green, I turned into the left lane. I realized the man behind me was in a huge hurry, so I got out of his way into the right lane. I guess I did not move quickly enough because he pulled up next to me in the left lane and began gesturing for me to get off my phone.
I will never forget that jerk in his dark-colored sedan with his child in the back seat.
He then zoomed past me and slowed down to wait for me to catch up, since I was traveling no faster than the posted speed limit (40 mph). As I approached, he speeded up and then tried to run me off the road.
I slammed on my brakes and got as close to the curb as possible. Then Mr. Dark Sedan took a left, and I headed home.
He had ruined my day and had probably ruined his day, or I guess he would blame that on me. He had also taught his child (a) complete disrespect for others, (b) that driving like an idiot (even if I was wrong for changing lanes) is completely acceptable and (c) some really bad manners.
Regardless of whether I was on my cell phone, I was paying attention. I saw him in my rearview mirror approaching rapidly, and I proceeded to move out of his way.
By the time I arrived home, my blood was boiling and I was fuming, especially knowing that a child was in the back seat of that vehicle. I called the police.
The very pleasant man who answered the phone advised me there was nothing the police could do because I had not called immediately after it happened. He did give me some tips, should something like that happen again. Needless to say, I was not completely satisfied.
I know that everyone who travels the Beltway and other busy roads in Northern Virginia, the District and Maryland has dealt with an idiot or two, but for that type of behavior to happen on our community streets is an outrage.
I understand that the police cannot be everywhere to catch these jerks and their aggressive driving, but we, as drivers, should have a way to report such incidents.
I also understand that at this point it is my word against this jerk's, but considering that prosecutors can pin a murder case (or any other case, for that matter) on the same type of "evidence," I would think the region could create a task force to deal with driver complaints.
If, say, there were five complaints against a particular license plate within one year, then there should be some type of investigation, mandatory driving school or even suspension for a month. Maybe then we would all be more courteous drivers -- and better neighbors to boot.
The one positive thing that came out of all of this is that I will be a courteous driver from now on, even if I'm in a hurry. It's not worth risking an accident and having someone get hurt.
Cortney A. Smith
I hope that letter was cathartic, Ms. Smith. The sooner you can lower your blood pressure, the better for your health.
Police have been consistent in saying that they have to see a moving traffic violation to ticket a motorist. Had you called the state police at #77 on your cell phone or the Loudoun County sheriff's office, a trooper or deputy might have been able to spot the errant driver in the dark sedan.
My advice for when someone encounters a madman behind the wheel is to lose him as soon as possible. Turn off. Turn around. Get to a public place. Unless you've got a medical emergency, that should be your top priority.
P.S. Unlike the District, Virginia does not outlaw the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. But such use is dangerous and appropriate only for emergencies.
Also, we really don't want a society in which drivers can report on other drivers, which can lead to suspension of a license based solely on the word of the other driver, do we?
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 at 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers to receive e-mail, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening phone numbers.