Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My 14-year-old daughter has 16-year-old friends just getting their driver's licenses. I'm a bit nervous because their experience is limited.

What are the Maryland laws concerning new drivers, and what rules do you think are appropriate for a parent to institute, such as limiting the number of passengers in the car?

She has already started searching for someone to drive to school with in a county that has one of the highest fatality rates in the region.

Kevin Conron


I think you are wise to ask. And based on that last paragraph, she seems to be getting ahead of what's prudent. I hope you'll be able to take charge.

In Maryland, a 16-year-old can get a provisional driver's license for 18 months. During that time, the novice driver must not carry alcohol, opened or unopened; drive between midnight and 5 a.m.; or receive a moving violation. Driver and passengers must wear seat belts at all times.

Any violation of the above means the 18-month provisional period starts all over again. At the end of a violation-free 18 months, the young driver can get a driver's license.

There are no restrictions on the age or number of passengers a new driver may carry. Bills were introduced in the most recent General Assembly session to provide such restrictions, but that legislation failed to pass. Too bad.

The leading cause of death of 16-year-olds is traffic accidents. Young drivers without enough driving skills speed, show off and think they are immortal. A lethal combination.

I would not let my teenage daughters ride with a 16- or 17-year-old driver. Just too risky.

When it's time for your daughter to get a learner's permit, you can let her drive to and from school, with you keeping the vehicle. Train her to drive on interstate highways, merge, turn from the correct lanes, pass on two-lane roads and know what to do when the right tires run off the edge of the road.

Teach her to drive in heavy rain, snow and ice, and at night. I think at least 1,000 miles of interstate and 1,000 miles of local driving would be the minimum training -- and the parent should provide it.

Only when you are satisfied she can drive alone -- rather than being guided by the onset of any birthday -- should you approve a provisional license. The closer to age 18 that occurs, the better.

I understand that teenagers are eager to gain their independence, but please don't let them stampede you into something dangerous. After all, we parents are the wiser, aren't we?

Bicyclist's Plea

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

This responds to your column of Sept. 2 with the incongruous headline "Imperious Pedalers."

I am a longtime member (since 1974) of the Potomac Pedalers Touring Club (PPTC). Ten years ago and again last year, PPTC's chairman sent a letter to Montgomery County's director of public works. The letters requested on-road accommodation for the experienced adult cyclists who use MacArthur Boulevard.

Bicycle lanes, smooth paved shoulders or wider lanes would significantly improve safety for all road users while reducing maintenance costs for county taxpayers. Traffic volumes and speeds warrant those improvements.

Please join our petition for bicycle-friendly improvements to MacArthur Boulevard. Second, please help us spread the word that bicycles are legal vehicles and that bicyclists have the same rights and duties as all other on-road vehicle operators.

PPTC is a nonprofit educational, recreational and social organization for bicycling enthusiasts. Our 3,300 members lead approximately 1,500 bicycle tours each year on local roads. Several of our members live near MacArthur Boulevard and use it for bicycle commuting.

For more information about the Potomac Pedalers, see our Web site at

Bill Clarke

PPTC government affairs

chairman for Maryland


I've received a number of letters -- coming soon -- about MacArthur Boulevard bike lanes.

Turn Up the Volume

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I believe that the main reason turn signals are not turned off is because very many people don't have hearing capability to pick up the faint sound that the turn signals are on.

Perhaps a blinking light or a better sound system would eliminate the problem.

Joe Kobylski

Landover Hills

Good point. How about something that sounds like an oven timer left on? That should do it.

Tricking Tailgaters

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have had several experiences of being tailgated when there was no opportunity to pull over to the right lane because that lane had too many cars. This usually happens when you are passing other cars but the driver behind you does not think you are passing them rapidly enough.

What I have done is throw on my emergency blinker lights.

That has always succeeded in alarming the driver behind me enough that he (yes, it has always been a "he") has slowed down and put more space between our vehicles. That gave me time to find an adequate opportunity (car gap) to move over to the right lane.

That is really the biggest problem with tailgaters: when they are tailgating you not to force you to move to the right lane (which is full) but rather to force you to accelerate, often above (or well above) the speed limit.

Julie Locascio


That bothers me, too. But safety professionals advise against using hazard blinkers because other drivers don't know your intent.

How about putting your right blinker on and slowing until someone lets you in or the tailgater passes you?

Cyclist-Driver Sharing

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have been reading your column regarding the problem of cyclist vs. motorist on Rock Creek Parkway for more than 10 years (the latest Sept. 16). The solution is obvious. The lanes are wide enough to accommodate both cyclists and motorists. All that is needed is a little courtesy.

The cyclist traveling at 15 mph should not feel he has the right to stay in the middle of the lane and block cars averaging 25 mph.

On the other hand, the motorist when passing should not blare his horn at the cyclist or aggressively lean his vehicle close to the bicycle, almost forcing him off the road. There is room for both traveling at a reasonable speed as long as one doesn't try to outmaneuver the other.

I am both cyclist and motorist on Rock Creek Parkway. When driving, I don't find it inconvenient to share the road with a cyclist as long as he stays to the right. When cycling, I prefer the off-highway trail. It is bumpier but safer.

Rock Creek Parkway is not an interstate. It would be nice if both cyclist and motorist would put aside their aggressive Washington attitude and enjoy the trees and other scenery on this off-highway road.

Richard Lampl


I'm not a bicyclist, but it seems that a motorist and a bicyclist sharing the same lane, side by side, is a bit too dangerous. One moment of distraction by the motorist could send the bicyclist flying.

So, since bicyclists/motorcyclists are to be treated as if they were a car/truck/van, why not yield the space ahead entirely to the cyclist already in it?

Another Way North

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Having lived in Massachusetts for close to 17 years before relocating to Maryland, I have a small quibble with your scenic route to Maine. If possible, you really want to avoid Interstate 95 north of Interstate 90 heading to Boston. Even when it isn't rush hour, it is still very busy.

I suggest the following route, which is not only less busy but also more scenic:

From your route of Interstate 270 north to Route 15 north to Route 581 east to Interstate 83 north to Interstate 81 and north to Interstate 84 east, connect to Interstate 90 east, then take Interstate 290 north at Auburn, Mass., passing through Worcester, Mass.

I-290 connects to Interstate 495 in Marlborough, and following I-495 north will bring a driver to I-95 just south of the New Hampshire border.

Margaret F. Dikel


The less Boston area traffic, the better for the Maine-bound traveler. Thanks for the suggestion.

Attentive in Europe

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In your Sept. 16 reply to Gerard Williger, you said European drivers don't cruise in the left lane because they will get run over. You don't give European drivers credit.

It is their training, courtesy and good sense, not fear. They are paying attention to the road, not drinking coffee and talking on the phone.

Bob Rudy


Lane-Change Rite

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

To argue with one of your other readers, I want to point out that I was taught that the proper order was mirror, signal, head check when looking to change lanes.

Pam Divins


Sounds good to me. I wonder if most people do the head check (a backward glance to make sure the move-into lane is empty). I find it crucial.

Metro Rider No More

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Since you're curious about Arlington commuters on Metro, I'll share. I was a frequent Metro user, picking up a Metrobus in front of my apartment and then taking a single Orange Line train to Federal Triangle, from where I could walk easily through the Reagan Building to my office in the Department of Commerce.

It's got to be one of the easiest commutes in the metropolitan area . . . on paper.

The trains were usually standing room only when I got on at East Falls Church, and over two years, it just got worse and worse.

Not to mention that Metro loves running four-car trains during rush hour.

And the delays. Always the delays: Fire. Sick passenger. Backup. Whatever. Gilda Radner said, "It's always something." So true of Metro and its delays.

Anyway, on good days, from door to door, the commute would take about 45 minutes.

What is it by driving time? Twenty minutes. And I have my car nearby, so I can leave and return whenever I want. I like to stay later at work and hit the gym; well, do that with Metro and try getting home in a reasonable time after rush hour. It was never reasonable, and it was never an hour.

My attitude at work is much better, and I arrive way ahead of Metro.

Every month I do write a relatively hefty check -- money out of my pocket, not the government's, by the way -- to the Reagan Building for parking. I do it gladly, and with a flourish, knowing that the other option really isn't an option, even though it looks good on a map.

Mike Walker


Lawbreakers Abound

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In response to Pat Julien of Sterling, who seems to think the Fairfax County government is out to make money on traffic tickets [Dr. Gridlock, Sept. 16]: The reason Fairfax County has four courtrooms operating is because all those people broke the law (and got caught).

If the public behaved within the law, none of those courtrooms would have a single traffic case.

Many millions of dollars would be saved because we wouldn't need those four courtrooms. Fewer police would be required, and almost no accidents would occur.

I find it incredible that there are so many bad drivers on our roads.

David Quante


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.