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


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.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Regarding tailgaters: I recently entered Annapolis from Washington, driving in the far left lane. I knew I was going too fast (70 mph) but was hemmed in by a semi to my immediate right going the same speed and a tailgater who seemed to be just inches off my bumper.

Though both were making me a little nervous, I tried to stay calm and relaxed -- so much so that I noticed that my windshield was dirty and chose that time to run the windshield washer.

It was when the wipers on the brown car behind me came on that I remembered that that's a method people use for discouraging tailgaters. Just as I was thinking, well, that's not how I meant it, but if it works . . . a blue light on his dash came on, and I was pulled over for speeding by a state trooper driving an unmarked car!

Fortunately, I was given only a warning, though I deserved the ticket. But I'm sure that if I hadn't put on my washer, he'd have simply blown by me when I had a chance to pull over. Oh, well. . . .

Pamela Miller


Lesson learned. Dr. Gridlock does not advise putting on wipers or feigning brake lights to discourage the tailgater, but putting on the right turn signal and getting over as soon as possible.

You don't want to get involved further with a tailgater. You just want him gone.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In the 1970s, in a busy Chicago morning rush hour, I was tailgated by some guy in a pickup. I did the turn-on-the-headlights trick to make him back off.

He did, but reacted by hitting his brakes hard. Thinking about it later, I realized I had almost caused an accident because his overreaction easily could have resulted in a chain-reaction series of collisions.

I motored on, thinking justice had been done. A mile or so later, on an expressway offramp, the pickup roared up, passed me on the left shoulder and did a perfect "cop stop," throwing his car in front of mine and making me stop.

The driver got out, screaming and cursing, and proceeded to kick in the side of my car (an almost-brand-new Honda at the time). He did that for about a minute, got back in his truck and left.

There were no cell phones then, but if that happened today, we could call the police or videotape it and report it. But likewise back then, we hadn't yet heard of drivers shooting at other drivers, of people being killed in traffic altercations. He beat up my car, not me.

If someone is tailgating, let them go by. Justice will come their way eventually, be it a cop, a pothole or something. My experience might be the exception, but it certainly could have ended far uglier than it did. Why risk it for the sake of a momentary sense of victory?

John McGing


I agree.

Rush Hour Is Time to Tow

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 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


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: (1) ticket and tow illegally parked vehicles during rush hours, and (2) position traffic police at busy intersections.

Two Years Too Long

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Do you know anything about the never-ending construction on Little Falls Parkway in Bethesda? The northbound direction has been restricted to one lane since time immemorial, and even though I drive through the area several times a week, I never see any construction being done at that site.

I'd love to find out, and even more, to have the construction finished!

Francois Lang


Dr. Gridlock wrote about this two years ago. At that time, a county spokesman said that they were trying to line up funds from various agencies and that work might begin in 2004.

I get a letter a week about this dormant project. It is not a good advertisement for the Montgomery County Department of Public Works and Transportation.

Not a Safe Place to Sip

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I commute regularly by Metrobus and have become increasingly disturbed by a pattern of non-enforcement 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 (with many people standing) 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 with cups and food that they are not permitted to consume the contents until they disembark.

Chhaya Rao


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.

Motorcycle Madness

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

This is in reference to Patrick Startt's letter [Dr. Gridlock, Sept. 23] about the unsafe motorcycle riders racing at high speeds on Route 50 near where he lives. They are not only putting other drivers in danger but are endangering themselves.

I don't know if you are aware of the incident on Route 340 in Frederick County recently. Several young men were riding dangerously, weaving in and out of traffic, popping wheelies, etc.

People reported them to police, but by the time the police were able to respond, one of those young men, Shaun Matlock, was dead.

He had run into a parked tow truck that was helping a disabled vehicle. What makes this tragedy even grosser is that the riders were doing those stunts as part of a movie-making process.

One of the young men riding with Mr. Matlock has been charged with reckless endangerment.

I hope others learn from this behavior before someone else dies.

Cheryl Anne Forster


The Startt complaint was about packs of motorcyclists racing at 100 mph, weaving in and out of traffic, on Maryland Route 50.

The Matlock crash occurred at a reported 80 mph when he was riding on one tire for the benefit of a cameraman, lost control and hit a parked tow truck.

What can you say about that?

If you see groups of motorcyclists speeding, report them to state police at #77 on your cell phone, and let me know the details.

Orange Line Woes

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 Interstate 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


I agree, Mr. Viands.

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.