Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Although I agree with you that parents need to be more involved in their children's driving education, I think it is time for parents and people of influence such as you to insist on a more strictly regulated and higher-quality driving education.

Because the drivers we put on our busy and dangerous roads often do not have the proficiency to handle difficult situations, you cannot expect parents, often juggling two jobs, to step in and perform what I consider a professional service. We need to raise the bar on driver's ed. Who controls the driving schools? How are the operators licensed?

And then there is the exam: Aspiring drivers, before being issued a license, should show an examiner in one hour of practical driving that they have "the right stuff."

Dr. Gridlock, the fact that your second daughter didn't receive her license until she was 171/2 proves my point: You were an exception. Most parents do not have the time that you did to teach your daughter. Let's leave the education process to licensed, qualified professionals.

A. Maarten Singelenberg

Chevy Chase

I'm for better driver's ed and better testing. But I don't think you find it in the assorted commercial driving schools, where training is brief. I still believe it is parents' responsibility to provide comprehensive driver training and behind-the-wheel experience. The state's requirement of a half-dozen hours of training behind the wheel to get a solo license is hardly adequate.

Why would parents allow their just-turned-16-year-old to operate a 3,000-pound vehicle, with the attendant temptations to speed, show off and seek thrills, if the parents were not sure the driver was ready for the responsibility?

Parents need to make time for training. Make time. What is more important?

Young Hot Rodders

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

How about some comment connecting all of the recent tragic highway deaths with the fact that parents are allowing their kids to soup up their cars such that it almost shouldn't be surprising when they don't come home?

My quiet suburban street is constantly disrupted by cars that are noisier than the occasional fire engines. These huge muffler systems (or whatever it is that makes the cars so loud) must create temptations for driving fast.

Why do parents think this is okay? If they aren't concerned about their kids' safety, how about consideration for their neighbors?

And then there are the huge stereo systems that are distracting young drivers, but that would be another column.

Billie Gardner


If the parents aren't concerned about their children's safety, they probably aren't going to be considerate of neighbors, either.

I don't know why parents let their children operate souped-up vehicles. That should be a warning that the teenager might be tempted by speeding and thrill seeking. A dangerous combination.

What do you think?

Bad Examples Abound

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am the parent of a 16-year-old learning to drive. You have emphasized the importance of parental responsibility in teaching a new driver. What about our collective responsibility?

I have been astonished by the number of drivers who have been nasty to my daughter while she drives. What does she do to deserve the honks, stares and comments shouted out of windows?

Why, she drives the speed limit and comes to a complete stop at stop signs. She is not hanging out in the left lane or driving unusually slowly; she is driving exactly as we say we want our teenagers to drive.

I realize that adult drivers get sloppy, but there is no excuse for the abuse she's gotten when she is obeying the law.

What incentive does she have to continue obeying the law when she's driving without me sitting next to her?

In the past weeks our area has seen a rash of deaths among teenage drivers, and everyone says, "How awful." But the adults are not setting much of an example for the teenagers.

Nancy Choice


You're right. The adults, sometimes including the parents, do not set good examples when driving.

Perhaps a bumper sticker saying "Teenage Driver" or "Driving Trainee" would cause others to back off. Some parents have told me they do. I believe you can have such a decal printed at a sign shop for a nominal fee. Good luck!

Misuse of Shoulder

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

While I have many driving pet peeves, by far the one that makes my blood boil hottest is drivers using the shoulder as a travel lane to get around jam-ups.

My first example involves being held up in traffic before making use of a turn lane that has not yet begun. Drivers fly down the shoulder because they do not wish to wait until they arrive at the actual turn lane. I wait to proceed into the turn lane until I have reached it.

If a driver on the shoulder strikes me as I move into the turn lane, who is liable? If drivers use the shoulder as a travel lane, wouldn't they be at fault if they hit someone in a real lane?

The second example involves a lengthy highway on/off ramp with heavy traffic. I am going at a slower pace on the ramp, awaiting a chance to merge into the main travel lane, and a driver who is exiting drives around me and others by using the shoulder to proceed to the exit point.

Helen Rhoades


How can speeding, tailgating, blocking intersections and other traffic offenses, such as traveling on road shoulders, be discouraged? Police say they rely on voluntary compliance. But often that does not work, as you point out. More enforcement is essential.

Drivers should also stay off shoulders because they might be needed for emergency vehicles responding to the wreck ahead that is causing the traffic jam.

No Law on Left Lanes

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I'm surprised by your response to the folks who just moved from New York and New Jersey and observed there were no signs saying "Keep Right Except to Pass" [Dr. Gridlock, Oct. 14].

I would have thought you, of all people, would be aware that in Maryland drivers are not required to move to the right to let faster traffic pass. Drivers are not required to pass a vehicle to their right that is moving at a similar speed.

No wonder there's so much weaving in and out by drivers. Because of how the laws are written, I'm sure most offenders feel they have to drive that way to get where they want to go.

Stephen Glowacki


Scofflaws on 2 Wheels

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The D.C. Council can pass all the regulations it wants concerning traffic, but D.C. police won't enforce them unless ordered to do so. Examples: When was the last time you saw anyone riding a bike on the sidewalk in the downtown business zone stopped and ticketed?

Mopeds are becoming as big and powerful as Harley-Davidsons, yet they are still unregulated and used on sidewalks and driven the wrong way on one-way streets and through stop signs and red lights.

Bob Westgate


And motorists are allowed to park illegally in the curb lanes during rush hours, a major cause of gridlock. And officers can't be found to direct traffic at intersections during rush hours. And motorists are allowed to block intersections with impunity. See a pattern here?

Slow Down if Tailgated

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

If you are being tailgated in one of the right lanes or, even worse, are on a two-lane road, the correct response is to slow down to leave a larger interval between you and the car in front of you. That is not to punish the tailgater with what one reader called "self-righteous vigilante" justice; it serves real and practical purposes.

The biggest threat from a tailgater is that the individual will rear-end you if you have to stop. By leaving a longer interval between you and the car in front, you allow yourself more time to slow and stop, leaving the person behind you a longer time to stop after your brake lights come on.

By leaving a larger interval, you give the tailgater a place to safely pass, and by slowing down, you encourage the tailgater to pass.

Do the smart thing and let the individual pass.

Gerry Lebel


I'm not sure how slowing down is in the public good. You might get struck from behind, pushing your vehicle into another lane or into oncoming traffic.

I agree with your last sentence and recommend putting on a right-turn signal and pulling right as soon as possible. And motorists should stay out of the left lane except to pass.

Enforce Metro Rules

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

As a Metro rider, I am fed up with people complaining about being arrested for violating Metro rules.

You are not supposed to eat or drink or smoke or spit on Metro; it keeps it clean for all of us.

You are supposed to be respectful of other passengers; no music is to be played without headphones, etc.

Why do people think Metro is usually so clean and pleasant, compared with subways in other cities? Because we have rules against eating and disturbing passengers.

And since when does mouthing off to officers who are enforcing clearly posted regulations come without consequences? If an officer tells you that you are being too loud and you tell him to shove it, what do you think is going to happen? You'll get an award for good citizenship?

My view is, quit the whining. Marla Brin


Why should people think they are exempt from the rules? Let me guess: It's because they don't care. And I suspect these rude people will not pay attention to admonitions, either.

What to do? Change cars at the next station. Encourage Metro police to cite violators, but with hundreds of thousands of passengers using the system every day, that might be like trying to rake the incoming tide.

I believe most riders are like you, Ms. Brin. They want more enforcement of the rules. Send your views to Polly Hanson, chief of Metro Police, 600 Fifth St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001.

Peril of Loose Loads

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

A body shop just completed more than $1,000 in repairs to one of our cars. You can imagine the surprise when my wife reported she had been hit by a wheelbarrow -- until she described how it had fallen from an oncoming vehicle on a two-lane highway.

Mostly I was thankful it wasn't on the first bounce, which probably would have sent this unguided missile across the hood and through her windshield.

We ensure dump trucks have their loads covered, and no doubt that has saved many windshields. But there doesn't seem to be much concern about junk falling from high-speed vehicles.

If it is against the law, perhaps we could get some increased attention.

Dennis Van Buskirk


Drivers who do not secure their loads properly are subject to traffic citations and civil lawsuits. Take the extra time to tie down potential missiles. You don't want one of your possessions to kill someone.

And Virginia State Police, we would be so grateful if you would pull over pickup trucks and vans with shaky load security and compel the driver to stay in place until the load can be secured to the trooper's satisfaction.

Do any of you have other stories about loose possessions causing, or nearly causing, an accident?

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.