Dear Dr. Gridlock:

There is a lot of talk about the safety benefits of cell phones being hands-free. D.C. requires it, and Virginia and Maryland need to do so as well.

The real danger, however, is not in the talking; it is in the dialing. In four years, I have never created even a remotely dangerous situation when talking. On three occasions while dialing, however, I narrowly averted accidents. I needed my best reflexes to prevent serious collisions.

When talking, I am able to see the road in front and back clearly; when dialing, my eyes are off the road.

The point here is that you and others are misleading the public into thinking that hands-free phoning will make our roads safer. At best, the improvement will be only at the margin.

As a nation, we were able to survive and flourish for many years without talking and driving, and we may need to return to that. I love the convenience, but is it worth the price?

Dialing -- not talking -- is the problem.

John R. Powers

Alexandria

I think talking may be a problem, too. People engaged in conversation can lose focus on driving.

I do agree with you that dialing is hazardous. Even taking your eyes off the road for a second or two can cause you to move into another lane.

Hard to Swallow

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I commute regularly by Metrobus and have become increasingly disturbed by a pattern of nonenforcement aboard Metrobuses regarding the consumption of beverages and food.

Despite posted signs indicating that it is unlawful to eat or drink on buses, I see violations of that rule all the time.

What concerns me most are the safety issues surrounding the consumption of beverages on moving vehicles.

This morning, on an inbound rush-hour N4 bus, I witnessed an incident that finally moved me to write to you.

I was seated in the back row of a crowded bus (many people were standing in the aisle) when I noticed a young man standing nearby, taking careful sips from an open paper cup; his beverage was clearly hot.

Because of his position in the bus, he exposed at least four seated passengers around him to a potential spill that the lurching of the bus through traffic could have caused at any moment.

How could the driver have allowed him to board the bus with an open cup in the first place?

I'd like to ask Metro to remind its drivers to enforce the eating and drinking ban on the buses.

Drivers could remind passengers as they board the bus with cups and food that they are not permitted to consume the contents till they disembark.

Chhaya Rao

Washington

Drivers should tell passengers they can't board with open consumables. Those should go into a wastebasket by the driver, or at the bus stop.

Pentagon City Parking

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Reader C.L. Hevenor asked how you get a parking place after 9 a.m. at the Huntington Metro station [Dr. Gridlock, Metro, Sept. 19]. I suggest driving to the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City in Arlington and parking in the mall's parking garage.

For a few bucks, you'll get a parking space next to a Metro station (Pentagon City) on the Yellow/Blue Line and a quick ride into D.C.

I found that to be the easiest way to visit D.C. without having to drive into the city or look for a space at a Metro station with limited parking.

Ann-Michelle Krawfsky

Alexandria

Rush-Hour Towing

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Over the years, it has been my observation that there are many little things that the D.C. police and D.C. government could do to help ease gridlock in the District.

Unfortunately, what I usually see are D.C. police officers sitting in their cars, or driving around, ignoring people who violate traffic laws.

One of the most frustrating things is cars parking illegally on major thoroughfares during rush hour. All it takes is one car to seriously compound traffic woes.

On Sept. 22 at 5 p.m., there was an illegally parked truck on Constitution Avenue between the 2nd Division Memorial and the police barricade at the entrance to the Ellipse.

I'm sure one of those officers must have noticed. As I continued on my way, I passed a D.C. police tow truck (license No. DC 1052) parked at 18th Street and Virginia Avenue, where the tour buses park. He was just hanging out. It was the third time in the last year that I have seen something like that.

What are these people doing?

Where is the accountability?

Jeff Ludwig

Gaithersburg

Constitution Avenue at that location is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. It contracts with a private towing company to relocate illegally parked cars onto the Mall, next to the Constitution Avenue curb. Those vehicles also get tickets. The result is a clear curb lane (in theory), but you may have seen an illegal parker after the tow truck sweep.

D.C. police and the parking control aides of the D.C. Department of Public Works could receive so much love if they would do two things: Ticket and tow illegally parked vehicles during rush hours, and position traffic police at busy intersections.

Vienna High-Rises

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I carpool on Interstate 66 to get to the Orange Line. The prospect of high-rises at the Vienna Metro, just two exits west of the Beltway, can only lead to worse traffic on I-66, worse traffic on the Beltway and the continued degradation of the overcrowded, often-delayed Orange Line.

Despite Fairfax County's best intentions, it can't control all of Metro's chaotic funding, so promises of more rail cars are just words until I see them in operation.

Even if that happens, the fare gates, platforms and escalators are dangerously crowded now. How many more people do high-density advocates think Metro can handle?

It seems that the people who think this is a good idea are not Orange Line riders. They blithely ignore Metro's capacity limits and funding problems, so "anything goes" when building near a Metro.

That this mind-set appears to have taken hold in my county government is, to say the least, highly discouraging.

Lora Ann Magruder

Fairfax Station

Metro's last deployment of its new rail cars went to the Red Line. What you see is what you've got on the Orange Line.

Residential density around Metro stations was a good idea at one time. Now, however, the roads around that station, and the Orange Line, are packed. Adding eight residential towers at the Vienna station will pack them even more. How much more congestion can we take?

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have become a supporter of the new development because our area will benefit. One thing our homeowners association is trying to get pushed is a walking path and bridge (built by the developer) so that we may have direct access to the Metro. (Last I checked, it looks like it is going to happen.)

That will make my trip to the Metro less than a half-mile, or under a 10-minute walk. I am surprised to hear so many complaints. Of all places to develop, next to a Metro station seems logical.

Everyone complains about developers and local government boards clogging the roads and communities, but what I notice is that when the developers build, there is no shortage of buyers. In fact, the buyers usually come in such droves that the prices of the new homes actually go up as they are being built, and the homes are sold before they are finished.

The new development on Pickett Road is a prime example: The homes started at $700,000 and less than a year later are already up to $900,000.

It seems that more people are in favor of development than against, and they demonstrate that not by attending city planning meetings or voicing their opinions but by spending the American dollar.

Wyatt Miedema

Fairfax

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Thanks for asking about Orange Line experiences. I drive on Interstate 66 to the Vienna Metro station. Both are overcrowded. The unpredictability of I-66 is bad enough, but the increasing crowds, breakdowns and delays on the Orange Line make a bad situation worse.

Development at the Vienna Metro station should not be increased until sufficient funding for improving both I-66 and the Orange Line is fully secured.

Michael Viands

Clifton

I agree, Mr. Viands.

Tailgating Trickery

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

When tailgated, I keep my right foot on the accelerator to maintain my speed while depressing the brake pedal with my left foot just enough to light my brake lights. The tailgater will usually slow down as soon as my brake lights come on, but since my speed does not decrease, no panic braking is required.

If the procedure does not work immediately, I repeat it until the tailgater backs off.

If the tailgater is a total nut case, I maintain my speed until I can safely change lanes or pull off the road completely -- which I have done on many occasions. It's much better to have trouble in front of you than behind you.

Jan Wessling

Olney

I don't recommend gimmickry as it could escalate into road rage. Rather, I'd immediately put on my right turn signal and change lanes as soon as I could.

Directions, Please

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

If one is traveling south on Interstate 295 from Maryland into the District, how do you get on Interstate 395 south (the Southeast-Southwest Freeway) to cut across town and into Virginia?

Tom Orrell

Bowie

Head south on D.C. 295 to the Howard Road/Downtown exit. Turn right at the base of the exit ramp. Go one block and turn right at the traffic light, a move that will carry you onto the ramps to the South Capitol Street (Frederick Douglass Memorial) Bridge.

The signs for I-395/Richmond are overhead and come into view after you've crossed the bridge.

Just Pay Attention

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In response to the letter by Pat Julien [Dr. Gridlock, Extra, Sept. 16] about Fairfax County making too much money from traffic tickets, it sounds to me like he or she is one of the incoherent drivers on the road today.

Examples: Women putting on lipstick and eye shadow or smoking and talking on the phone. Are they paying attention to their driving?

Examples: Men shaving, talking on the phone with a laptop computer or newspaper on the steering wheel. They are not paying attention either.

The response is to stop doing all of the above. Your insurance will go down, you'll live longer and you'll have no tickets, no wrecks, no court appearances and a better frame of mind on the highway.

Mike Murphy

Broad Run

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