Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In your Sept. 5 column, you solicited solutions to the problem of tailgaters.

The problem has become so pervasive, along with speeding and swerving across lanes, that there is no solution except to keep to the right, which is always good anyway.

Tailgaters can, and do, rear-end people. The party doing the rear-ending will almost certainly be held responsible and can be charged with reckless driving. That charge carries up to a year in the slammer in Virginia. Wrecking your car, in and of itself, is no picnic, either.

Robert Richardson


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

One of your readers related a disturbing story about being tailgated and cut off by an aggressive driver. Unfortunately, most of us experience that often in this area. I have been in situations where I feared for my safety.

I do believe that law enforcement agencies are serious about the problem, but I wonder if they are doing anything but ticketing speeders and light runners. To what extent are they really ticketing for tailgating, dangerous maneuvers and cutting off other drivers?

My answer to the problem is to use unmarked police cars with rear- and front-mounted video cameras. These cameras would be set to run continuously. Once an offender exhibits aggressive driving, the cop car would "light up" and pull him over. The driver would be informed that he is on tape and being ticketed for aggressive driving.

That action should also be carried out against aggressive truck drivers. In addition, trucks should be required to have large identification numbers on the side of their cabs, in front and on the trailer. Now, they have one small number way up on the side of the cab, and the trailer license plate is just for the trailer -- not the tractor. That is worthless and provides no deterrent to bad driving.

To be effective, the unmarked cars should be not just police-type sedans, but minivans, sport utes and other vehicles.

Let's stop paying lip service to stopping aggressive driving and do something about it.

Bob Hugman


Readers tell me they support more law enforcement regarding aggressive drivers, red-light runners, speeders, shoulder drivers and violators of high occupancy vehicle lanes. If cameras are part of the solution, bring 'em on.

I thank you for all your suggestions for dealing with tailgaters. They included slowing and forcing the tailgater to pass, turning on headlights (thus faking brake lights) and turning on windshield wipers to toss wayward droplets at the tailgater.

I believe a tailgater demonstrates that he cares little about his safety and yours. Therefore, I still suggest you put on your right turn signal and move right as soon as possible. You want this maniac out of your life immediately.

Using the other tricks suggested above prolongs the confrontation and risks escalating it.

Grimy Stairs at Station

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

As a frequent user of the Franconia-Springfield Metro station, I am appalled at the dirtiness of the stairs. I don't think they have been swept or cleaned in months.

If the employees don't have time to clean them, maybe a Scout troop could undertake the job and put up a sign letting the public know it's the troop's project, similar to the signs along highways. That would accomplish a couple of goals: Young people would learn to clean up a public area, and their work would bring kudos from the public.

I guess the days of pride in the workplace are long gone for most Metro employees?

June Lee


I made an inquiry about this to Metro several days ago and am awaiting an answer. I like that you've suggested a solution (Adopt-a-Station).

I think Virginia and Maryland roadsides are relatively clean in large part because of the efforts of groups in those states' Adopt-a-Road programs.

I'll keep you posted when I get a response from Metro.

Messy Metro Cars

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I've been a daily Metro rider for more than 20 years, and never have I seen Metro cars as filthy inside as I did this summer. That was the case even in the mornings, before there was much time for people to trash the cars.

I was astounded by how much garbage (including copies of The Washington Post's Express newspaper) was strewn throughout the cars and by the amount of dirt literally ground into the carpet.

Many times I have flat-out refused to sit in the last row of seats at the back of the car, even when seats are at a premium, because of the disgusting God-knows-what that previous riders have deposited on and around those seats.

Has Metro fired or cut back on its overnight cleaning crews in an effort to save money or something?

Roberta Jones


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am responding to Bill Ballantyne's letter and your response in the Sept. 5 Dr. Gridlock column. Mr. Ballantyne complains about food and drink in Metro cars, and your column asks, "Is Metrorail the clean system it once was?"

My concern is that both the original letter and your response miss the point that the restrictions on eating and drinking are fire safety measures, intended to reduce the accumulation of trash around electrical equipment, which produces heat and has in the past ignited drifts of discarded material.

The King's Cross underground disaster in London was traced to several factors, one of which was the accumulation of trash under an escalator.

My suggestion is that any response to future "french fry" girls or similar incidents include a reference to the need to reduce the accumulation of fuel around vulnerable points in the system. The smell of smoke in a train halted in a subway is disconcerting, much more so than just the possibility of a stain caused by careless eating.

Richard Garrison


Blinking at Signals

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I read with interest your column on how to get another driver to turn off their turn signal when it has apparently been left on by mistake [Dr. Gridlock, Aug. 15]. Most people mentioned that they get in front of the other vehicle and give some sort of signal.

I was wondering how much trouble they went through to get in front of the problem vehicle and how much time they spent watching that vehicle behind them (forgetting about what is in front of them) while waiting for the driver to turn the signal off.

With the traffic problems in this area, such a situation could probably be left alone. Chances are if you notice that the signal is simply left on, drivers around you most likely will, too.

Wyatt Miedema


My original advice was that this situation should be left alone because gesturing or signaling may cause more confusion than benefit and could distract both drivers. All of us have left our blinkers on at one time or another; when we see that situation on the road, we know what it is.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have the perfect solution, but it works only when you can pass the person. What you do is pass the driver and leave your own turn signal on in the same manner as theirs. After awhile they think: What an idiot; they left their signal on. I would never do that. Then they look down and see that their turn signal is on. It has worked every time.

Jeff Williams

Columbus, Ohio

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

If a driver forgets his seat belt, he has chimes and lights to remind him. Why couldn't the same technique be used for turn signals?

If a driver makes a turn and doesn't use the turn signal, a chime could ring and a light flash to remind him. After he's been annoyed enough times, he may remember.

It's simple Pavlovian training, and the technology is readily available.

Robert A. Klein


Hog-Wild Riders

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I live on Capitol Hill, work downtown and drive to Lewes, Del., most weekends. Therefore, I am a regular driver on Interstate 395-D.C. 295 and Route 50 in the District and Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties.

I routinely observe reckless motorcycle riders on those highways. I never observe that anywhere else in the region. (I regularly drive in Northern Virginia, Delaware and Montgomery County and have not once seen that driving behavior there.)

Almost every weekend I encounter groups of anywhere from two to 10 motorcyclists driving wildly down the highway (usually on Route 50 between the D.C. line and Annapolis), weaving in and out of traffic, usually at speeds well in excess of 100 mph.

I live two blocks north of the Southeast-Southwest Freeway on Sixth Street SE, and I see and hear these maniacs screaming up and down the freeway day and night. It amazes me that more accidents are not caused by these out-of-control drivers.

Has anyone else reported this situation to you? I can't be the only one who has seen this. Of course I never see the police stopping these motorcyclists (they, literally, probably could not catch them).

It would be a service to the driving public if you would publish this letter and request that the police in the District and Maryland make an attempt to target these drivers in their traffic enforcement efforts.

Patrick G. Startt


Yes, I have received such complaints. The next time you see these kamikaze motorcyclists, dial #77 on your cell phone and report them to the police. Send me the particulars (time, date, direction of travel), and I'll ask law enforcement officers for their thoughts.

No Clue on Congestion

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I commute from the District to Fairfax on either Interstate 66 or Route 50. What governs which route I take is often the message on the overhead signs at the east and west ends of Theodore Roosevelt Bridge.

Often the signs do not reflect current traffic conditions, and I end up stuck in traffic on I-66.

Those signs must have cost several hundred thousand dollars to erect. What good are they if the person writing the message is asleep at the switch? It ends up costing me and hundreds of other busy commuters time, money and aggravation and adds to area pollution.

In our hyper-caffeinated society, can't these officials wake up as well?

Seymour I. Hepner, M.D.


I've asked the Virginia Department of Transportation about that and have not heard back. Another reader asked about the usefulness of those signs, and I invited participants of my Monday Online column to tell me their thoughts. Eighty percent of the respondents found those signs, such as "Congestion Ahead, Exit 64," more irksome than helpful. Who has memorized the exit numbers? Wouldn't the name of the road be more helpful? And, how much congestion -- backups for miles, or blocks?

Then you have the no-information-at-all signs, as Dr. Hepner observes.

Help may be ahead: The Federal Highway Administration is testing electronic signs that give the approximate number of minutes to the exits ahead. They are constantly changing, as measured by sensors in the road.

They are being tested in Atlanta and San Antonio. Let us hope they arrive here. We could use the help.

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