Dear Dr. Gridlock:

It seems as though schoolchildren do not know what one is supposed to do with a sidewalk. I have noticed for some time that the kids are most likely to be walking in the middle of the street.

I live in New Carrollton and am close to two schools. This morning, when taking my dog to the vet, I encountered as many as 10 kids at a time walking halfway out in the street. I came around a curve, and there they were. Had I been traveling at a higher speed, I might have hit one of them.

They look at you as though it is their right to be in the middle of the street, and they just stroll slowly out of the way of the car. As soon as you pass, they spread back into the street. I think it is the responsibility of parents to teach kids safety and not to always blame the motorist.

The police should try patrolling the neighborhoods as kids go to school and give them tickets for walking in the street.

Zona Blizzard

New Carrollton

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.

Tips on Tailgaters

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 or 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


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You asked for ways of handling a tailgater [Dr. Gridlock, 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.

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


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.

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, Metro, 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 a while 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


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


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.

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.