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.

Don't Dial and Drive

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am writing in response to a letter in your Sept. 2 column.

Cortney A. Smith of Ashburn wrote of an apparent act of road rage that she experienced.

In her letter, she admits she was using her cell phone at the time but says she still was paying attention. I think that any use of a cell phone while driving prevents one from fully paying attention to driving.

While I agree with Ms. Smith that the driver she encountered acted recklessly, she also was reckless to some extent by using her phone while driving.

A lot of bad feelings on the road could be prevented if people would follow the advice of the bumper sticker that says, "Hang Up and Drive."

Alex Boyko


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I just read the Cortney Smith letter to your column and your response.

I thank you for your P.S. regarding the danger of driving while holding a cell phone, but I think it could have been worded even more strongly and a stronger admonition could have been given to cell phone users about the effect their driving has.

Having driven behind many cell phone users, I find they often are inattentive to their driving. They slow down, drive erratically, forget to use turn signals and so forth. I think they may be oblivious to the impact of their cell phone use on their driving.

Maureen Landry


You're so right. Please see my remarks after the next letter.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I think you missed an important point in your response to the person from Ashburn who wrote about the aggressive driver with the child in the back seat of his vehicle.

I certainly agree with the writer that the other driver's behavior was inexcusable, not only because he was teaching his child the wrong lesson but also because he was putting his child's life in danger.

However, the writer acknowledged talking on a cell phone while driving.

People who do that cannot pay full attention to the road. They often start up slowly or belatedly from green lights, fail to maintain the speed of the traffic around them, and drift in and out of adjacent lanes as they concentrate more on their conversation than on their driving.

Perhaps the author of the letter was guilty of one or more of those irritating and often dangerous habits. There is a reason why using a cell phone while driving is against the law in certain jurisdictions.

Susan Roberts


I agree. It's dangerous to take one's eye off the road to dial and to take concentration off the task at hand by engaging in a conversation. That is why the District forbids drivers to use hand-held cell phones, and why Virginia and Maryland should as well.

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.

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.

Tips on Tailgaters

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You asked for ways of handling a tailgater [Dr. Gridlock, Sept. 5], and this is mine: I keep a generous space ahead of my vehicle so that I'll not have to slow suddenly, and then I ignore the tailgater. The closer he gets to me, the more space I allow for slowing, if necessary. Blocked forward visibility requires more space.

My leaving that space is no doubt annoying to the tailgater, so he will try to get by and tailgate the vehicle ahead of me.

Some drivers like to join up in tailgating chains, with all of them trying to match each other's speed variations, constantly accelerating and braking as they go down the highway just inches apart. These must be Type-A personalities who thrive on stress and don't care if their driving is terrible.

Alan E. Johnsrud


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

One trick I've used to get tailgaters to back off is to use my window-washer spray. I've found that in washing my front windshield, a good portion of the spray will fly over the top of my car and onto the windshield of the offending tailgater. They usually then back off.

Certainly nothing illegal, and, besides, you end up with a clean windshield.

Bill Novak


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Your snippet on tailgating on the interstate suggests that it is the tailgater who is in the wrong. More often than not, the slow people in the left lane are at fault.

Left lanes are for passing, not for camping out and cruising. It's a rule of driving that seems to have been lost on American drivers.

A.J. Foreit


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The technique I like to use for a tailgater is to gradually slow down. That forces him to solve the problem. He can figure out a way to go around me, which is usually what happens. If I am in the left lane, it is because I am going faster than the cars in the right lane; if I pull over to the right lane, then I just have to pass them again once he has gone on to intimidate the next driver.

The speeding tailgater seems to be on a power trip, which is just encouraged by the flustered driver in front of him moving over.

Occasionally, the tailgater will back off after I have eased up on the gas. Then I will look for an opportunity to use the right lane to let him pass.

The left lane should be for the more quickly moving vehicles. But I don't think power trips and aggressive driving should be encouraged.

Helen Gryboski


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.

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 of this column 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.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In reference to the question about the safest way to deal with tailgaters, here is my solution:

When I see a car tailgating me, I suddenly notice how dirty my windshield is, and I turn on my windshield washer.

Not only does it clean my windshield, but suddenly I notice that the tailgater turns his/her wipers on and drops back. Try it; it usually works.

Ed Warzel


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Regarding tailgaters: I have found that in this area no matter how fast you go or what lane you are in, there is always someone behind you wanting to go faster.

My solution? I just start slowing down. A little at a time. Soon the tailgater has changed lanes and zooms past me.

Richard Sullivan


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

When a tailgater gets too close I switch on my headlights. The tailgater thinks that I have applied my brakes and backs off.

Jean Noble


I thank you for all your suggestions for dealing with tailgaters. They include 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.

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.