Montgomery Meltdown

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

One day last summer I was driving on Briggs Chaney Road approaching a stoplight that was green. When I was about 50 yards from the light, a car that had been sitting at the cross street with the red light proceeded into the intersection, making a left turn in front of me.

Fortunately, I was not going fast and was able to avoid hitting the car. But imagine my surprise and that of the drivers behind me. I thought it was a rare instance and just a driver in too much of a hurry to care about anyone else.

But I have seen the same thing happen two other times since then: cars turning against the light into traffic.

When a few friends and I were talking about it, one said: "What's the problem with that? I do it all the time." His rationale is that if there is no traffic approaching within a "safe" distance, he figures it is all right to go, even though he has the red light.

I was taught, and still believe, it is the law that when you have the red light, you stop and stay there until the light turns green.

Peter Stein


You are correct. Motorists do not have the option of running a red light when it is "safe" to do so. For one thing, the red-light runner might not have a clear view of traffic crossing on the green light.

That bad habit seems to go hand in hand with motorists turning right from the left lane, crossing in front of through traffic, that I hear about from Montgomery residents.

Has traffic law broken down in Montgomery County?

AAA Driver Training

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You have in the past mentioned several driving schools in the Washington area.

Can you repeat any recommendations you or your readers made? This is for someone who has already been driving but needs further instruction.

My wife has driven in the United Kingdom and is now faced with getting a Maryland license. All things being equal, we would prefer a school or instructor in Bethesda or Rockville or adjacent areas.

I would be grateful for any comments or advice.

Rolf Sinclair

Chevy Chase

You might check out AAA's basic and advanced driver training courses. The automobile association has a branch in Rockville. The number to call for all AAA driver training locations is 877-457-0711.

How to Make a Pass

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I can attest to the fact that, in Italy at least, the main reason there is no left-lane cruising on the Autostrada is that that is nearly the only offense for which one will absolutely receive a traffic citation.

The left lane is designated for passing only; once you've passed, you are required to move immediately back to the right.

That works alongside the famous "no speed limit" laws in Italy. Speedier drivers always have an opportunity to pass slower traffic under this system.

Rico Petruccelli


For that to work here, a left-lane cruiser would absolutely have to fear that he or she would receive a ticket. What are the chances of that when so many traffic violations are unpunished?

Everywhere a Tailgater

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In your Oct. 7 column, you state that the best way to deal with tailgaters is to "put on my right turn signal and change lanes as soon as possible." Your statement implies that tailgaters tailgate only in the left lane. Unfortunately, it's not that simple.

In the D.C. area, tailgaters will tailgate in every lane, including in the far right lane. There are probably many reasons for their tailgating (me-first-ism, aggressiveness, traffic frustration, or my girlfriend's logic that "it's safe to tailgate because my car has anti-lock brakes"), but the fact remains that people will encounter tailgaters in every lane of traffic.

Therefore, my advice to drivers who are being tailgated is to try to put some sort of distance between you and the tailgater by any of the following methods:

1) Switching lanes and allowing the tailgater to pass you.

2) Switching lanes and slowing down so the tailgater is no longer directly behind you.

3) Temporarily speeding up (if there is no vehicle in front of you) to momentarily create space between you and the tailgater, thereby signaling to the tailgater that you don't like being tailgated.

4) In the case of a single-lane road, or when you are boxed in by traffic on all sides on a multilane road, slowing down slightly so that you create additional space between you and the vehicle in front of you. That gives you extra space to slow down and/or stop if an emergency situation occurs in front of you, while effectively doing the same for the tailgater, which decreases the chances of their hitting you from behind.

I've found those methods to be effective because they help put me out of harm's way without requiring that the tailgaters change their behavior, which is the only thing I can't control.

Mark Tune


If one is continually tailgated in the right lane of a road, I suggest trying an alternative road. You want to end these confrontations as quickly as possible.

Disengaging Turn Signals

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

As to drivers forgetting to disengage their turn signals: A number of manufacturers have been putting in chimes that sound loudly when signals are left on. My two General Motors brands from 1997 and 1998 have them, although they don't ring until about a half-mile has passed.

I use turn signals always, city and highway, sometimes for a considerable distance on a highway readying to exit, and the chime occasionally has reminded me to be sure to cancel after the ramp.

Perhaps of greater benefit would be what my 1980 Suzuki motorcycle had: self-canceling turn signals that would turn themselves off automatically.

If Suzuki could do it on motorcycles 25 years ago, with a very small electronic control, carmakers ought to be doing it now in all cars.

Richard J. Sincoff


I've driven vehicles where the turn signal is automatically disengaged as soon as the steering wheel is turned slightly. An annoyance.

Finding 'Yellow Ribbons'

Here are more suggestions from readers about where one can buy those "Support Our Troops" yellow ribbon magnets that we see on a number of vehicles these days.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I found my decals at the A.C. Moore Store in Mid-Pike Plaza at 11840 Rockville Pike in Rockville.

Hope that helps.

Joan Norwitz


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In your Sept. 19 column you inquired where one can purchase the yellow ribbon magnets that say "Support Our Troops." I recently bought one at the Banner's Hallmark store at the Westfield Shoppingtown Wheaton (Wheaton Plaza) shopping mall.

Sandy Gladmon

Silver Spring

Thanks for the tips.

Parking Lot Mechanics

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You recently asked if any readers had experienced roadside scams. Last month I was rear-ended, and my car sustained damage in the rear and front.

The firemen who came to the accident scene told me they thought my car was drivable for a short distance. So I drove to the supermarket (in College Park) the day before my car was to go into the body shop.

As I was leaving the parking lot, two men in an approaching car waved their arms at me. I stopped and one of them said, "Ma'am, I fix your car in one day!" as he offered me a flier.

I burst out laughing because my insurance company had said it would take at least three weeks for the work to be done, and the body shop I had chosen had said it would take at least four weeks.

I told the man that, and he was undeterred. He continued to repeat to me, "Ma'am, I fix your car in one day!"

I hope those fellows don't find any takers for their offer.

Kay Engman

Prince George's County

You were wise to be wary of strangers offering to "fix" your vehicle in a parking lot.

This Is an Emergency

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The traffic signal light at the intersection of Canal Road and Foxhall Road is turned in the wrong direction.

That causes confusion in case one is not paying attention to its mate on the other side of Canal Road.

Could you please ask the signal shop, or whoever takes care of the traffic signals in the District, to turn the direction of the signal so that it faces the traffic it is serving?

Rashid A. Makhdoom

North Potomac

According to the District Department of Transportation, that is an emergency. Reports should be filed by calling the general complaint number, 202-727-1000. Operators are trained to immediately forward such complaints to the appropriate field crews, according to Bill Rice, spokesman for DDOT.

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

Dr. Gridlock appears Thursday in Extra and Sunday in the Metro section. 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 telephone numbers.