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 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. I hope Mr. Dark Sedan will learn the same thing.
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 Virginia State Police at #77 on your cell phone, or the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office, a trooper/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?
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Truckers claim that automobile drivers are rude, cut them off and are a menace on the highways. Auto drivers say the same about truckers. There is plenty of blame to go around. (For the record, I am not anti-trucker.)
However, on Interstate 66 the other day, with most of the traffic doing 75 mph in a 55-mph zone, a loaded tractor-trailer came speeding up in the lane to the right of me. The car in front of the trucker was going slower (probably 70!), forcing him to either slow down or change lanes, so he abruptly moved in front of me and almost caused an accident.
The trucker kept weaving in and out of traffic at nearly 80 mph. That never got him very far. I kept catching up to him merely by staying in my lane at the same speed.
With more aggressive lane changing, the trucker cut me off again!
A mile or so later, traffic slowed to a crawl. I passed him one last time but not before getting his contact information and plate number. Turns out he is an independent trucker from Madison, Va.
The next day I looked up his address and phone number on the Internet and called him. I asked him if he was aware of how he was driving, and I described what he had done to me. He replied that other drivers are rude to him, "so I guess that makes us even."
I asked how that justified his reckless driving and endangering me. All he could muster was that I must have cut him off somewhere or that I "must be exaggerating."
It is amazing the extent to which people will go to rationalize their ugly behavior.
It's unusual for a motorist to track down another and have a dialogue about the miscreant's driving habits. It's hardly surprising, though, that the trucker did not concede the error of his ways (speeding, unsafe lane changes).
My advice is to get away from these drivers, pronto. Get off the freeway or slow down (in the right lane) until they are out of view. Call the state police at #77 if you have a cell phone.
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.
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 email@example.com, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening phone numbers.