Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You asked for ways of handling a tailgater ["Speeder on Your Tail? Move Over," Metro, 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.

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 while 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:

You asked if any of us have a way of handling people who follow too closely. You said to just put on your right turn signal and change lanes.

What if you are in the right lane? My way of handling that is not to brake but to take my foot off the gas pedal and let the car go slower and slower. Without fail, the person pulls around me, sometimes with a dirty look, and for the most part just speeds past.

John McGregor


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 quicker-moving vehicles. But I don't think power trips and aggressive driving should be encouraged.

Helen Gryboski


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.

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 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


Signal of a Request

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Turn signals mean "may I get into your lane?" and not "get over 'cause I'm coming over!"

Gloria Simmons


If more people saw it that way, we'd have better traffic flow. If drivers already in the desired lane believed it was up to them to be generous or selfish, chances are more would let up on the gas and permit the merge, rather than step on the accelerator and deny it.

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 the 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 -- is it backed up for miles, or for blocks?

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

Help may be on the way: The Federal Highway Administration is testing electronic signs that give the approximate number of minutes to the exits ahead. They are being tested in Atlanta and San Antonio. Let us hope they arrive here. We could use the help.

Don't Dial and Drive

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I just read Cortney A. Smith's letter to your Sept. 2 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 effects of driving while using a cell phone.

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.

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.

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.