Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Regarding your Oct. 7 column, I could only shake my head when you characterized maintaining speed while touching the brake pedal as "gimmickry," which my dictionary defines as being "novel or tricky."

What is novel or tricky about using brake lights to help someone behind you slow down when they're traveling too fast? What else are brake lights for?

Brakes slow you; brake lights slow the people behind you. If you doubt that, disconnect your brake lights and see how long it takes to be rear-ended.

Putting on your right turn signal and changing lanes as soon as possible is absolutely the right move when traffic allows, but it doesn't work too well on the one-lane-in-each-direction country roads out here in Maryland, where changing lanes means driving off the road into a tree or ditch. Thanks for the suggestion, but I'll pass (pardon the pun).

I'll continue to use my brake lights for their designed purpose: to warn drivers behind me when they're traveling too fast. That's not novel, tricky or gimmickry.

Jan Wessling


I disagree. Touching your brake pedal to "help" a tailgater slow down might also cause the tailgater to slam on his brakes at the sight of your brake lights and perhaps then cause the driver behind him to rear-end him, propelling his car into another lane or into oncoming traffic. Touching the brake pedal could also cause the tailgater to crash into you, sending your car out of control.

The tailgater shouldn't be tailgating, we can agree. But it's not your job to get him to slow down. You can incur further risk by doing so. Better to signal a right turn and move right as soon as possible, or use a pullout or cross street to shake the tailgater, or try traveling on wider roads.

Flag Formalities

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Regarding the small American flags people are flying from their cars: It's okay with me, but there are problems. I see flags that are dirty and shredded and flying in heavy rainstorms, and at night, when they're not lit up.

They're not following the rules for flying the flag. I don't think it's patriotic to treat the American flag that way.

Ferd G. Kuyatt

Silver Spring

If we're going to fly flags from our vehicles, we need to mind their condition. And the flag is supposed to be illuminated at night if not lowered at sunset.

License at 18, Not 16

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My heart is again saddened by the loss of another teenager due to an automobile accident. This is getting harder and harder to accept.

Parents need to realize that these kids are not grown up and should not be given freedom at the age of 16 to take control of an automobile (especially an SUV). Children are not equipped to handle these vehicles, which are hard for even an experienced adult driver to handle.

Because the parents are not taking responsibility for these children, it is time for the states to take action and stop issuing driver's licenses to children under the age of 18. At least that would possibly give these children another two years on their life. Hello, senators and congressmen; are you listening?

I might be considered an outdated parent, but I was a single and divorced parent when both my children took driver's education and other student driver training courses. When they turned 16, I did not buy them a car, nor did I turn my car over to them to drive as they pleased. They are both over 30 years old and still alive.

Parents need to wake up and see what is going on. What's with this hurry to get rid of the responsibility of taking your children places and instead pushing them to their deaths before they become adults?

Rosalie Goosby

Dale City

No licenses until age 18. I support that. What you went through was certainly time-consuming, and maybe even inconvenient for you, but you didn't have to worry about your 16- and 17-year-old children driving into a tree.

Parenting New Drivers

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I remember some years ago you recommended some defensive driving schools, but do you have any recommendations for basic driving schools? I've got 15-year-old twin boys who can't fit driver's ed into their schedules, and I do not want to do it myself. Thanks.

Jim Burridge


Many parents don't want to, but they need to. How else will they feel that their children have received competent instruction and needed experience? How else will they be able to tell when a teen is ready to drive alone behind the wheel?

The measure should not be a few hours of training from a commercial enterprise that does not care about your children. Nor should the end of training be triggered by a birthday.

Do it, and chances are they'll have a better chance of survival.

Resist Rubbernecking

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Recently, I sat in stop-and-go traffic (maximum speed 10 mph) for approximately 20 minutes in the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes traveling north on Interstate 395. Why? A major accident in the regular lanes of I-395 north near the Washington Boulevard exit triggered yet another outrageous example of mass rubbernecking.

So, although there were no blockages in the HOV lanes, HOV traffic was backed up several miles because of my fellow commuters' inability to keep their eyes focused on the road ahead of them.

A rubbernecker is defined by my dictionary as an "overly inquisitive person" who "looks about, stares, or listens with exaggerated curiosity."

We endanger ourselves and others by recklessly exceeding the speed limit en route to our destination, but are more than willing to slow down to catch a fleeting glimpse of the goings-on in another lane.

The first step toward combating rubbernecking is education. Local advertising campaigns and questions included in the driver's license exam will raise public awareness of the problem.

Second, solutions must be implemented. Those could include visual barriers between north and southbound lanes and signs posted at regular intervals along the freeway warning against the practice.

Finally, blatant rubberneckers should be charged with a moving violation and subjected to a fine.

Ryan Velthuis


We recognize the problem, but I don't know what the cure is if there's a cure. Maybe screens deployed by police would help.

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.