Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Why don't states outlaw so-called license plate protectors? Their design blurs a plate number, making it harder for traffic cameras and other drivers to register it.

Marc Hoberman

Arlington

I agree. What's the point of license plates if they are obscured?

Tinted covers are outlawed in Virginia. Clear ones are outlawed if they obstruct any part of the plate, such as the state name, the number or decals.

Some auto dealers send new-car buyers off with thick frames that obstruct vital information. Buyers should leave those frames at the dealer. Not only are they free advertising, but they leave the buyers liable for a ticket.

The fine and court costs total $82. I hope police are writing those tickets.

Buses in HOV Lane

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Do you know what the policy is for buses using the HOV lanes in Virginia? I mean buses that have only the driver in them -- no passengers. Why should they be able to use HOV lanes when there is only a single person in them? They are hardly fuel-efficient and clean-burning, like the hybrid vehicles.

I use the HOV lane on Interstate 66 traveling east in the morning. Between 5:45 and 6:15 a.m., there is always a Fairfax County school bus tooling along in the HOV lane at precisely 55 mph. I've passed the bus on occasion and have not seen students on board. I suspect the driver picked up the bus from the school bus depot on West Ox Road and is traveling to McLean or somewhere to start picking up students.

He causes a real backup in the lane, with other drivers taking chances in switching lanes to get around him.

I also see this with commercial buses: just a driver, no passengers.

Is that legal?

Cindy Jennings

Chantilly

Yes, so long as the empty bus is on the way to pick up passengers or has just dropped them off.

To pursue this, call the chief of bus transportation for the Fairfax County school system at 703-691-2876. Tim Parker is one of the senior people and a friend of Dr. Gridlock's.

Fighting a Fine

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Do you have any idea if it is possible to fight the doubling of a fine for a photo-enforcement speeding ticket after a first notice was supposedly ignored? In fact, I never received it.

I suspect the first notice was never even mailed.

If you hear of many complaints like this, I would wonder if it might be a common practice by the District government as a way to double its traffic ticket income.

Lee Breakiron

Fort Washington

I hear about this from time to time, but not enough to see it as a systemic problem.

What you have to do, unfortunately, is go through the ticket adjudication process. The hearing examiner will decide whether your story rings true enough to warrant dismissal, according to Mary Myers, spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Public Works.

Driver's Ed, German Style

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Can you stand another letter about driver training for teenagers?

My nephew in Germany mentioned in an e-mail that his oldest son will be turning 18 and eligible for a driver's license. That will cost him 1,500 euros, or more than $1,800.

Driver education students take 14 units of theory, each one lasting 11/2 hours. Theory includes traffic laws, the basics of how your car works, how to identify simple problems and how to change tires.

Then there are 12 mandatory driving lessons, and each one lasts 45 minutes. The lessons include practice on suburban and country roads, on autobahn expressways and at night. The instructor determines if additional practice is needed in city traffic.

Each lesson costs around 45 euros ($55), depending on location. That cost, in time as well as money, can be a deterrent to getting a license unless really necessary.

Sigrid Washington

Washington

Thanks for the breakdown on the German system -- expensive and intensive -- as opposed to our system, which is cheap and cursory. We need to find a better way than flipping the keys to the SUV to poorly trained teenagers on their 16th birthdays.

E-Z Sell

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My family just got back from a trip to southwest New York, and our E-ZPass probably saved us 45 minutes of waiting in long lines at the toll booths.

Up north, we noticed a greater promotion of E-ZPass.

Every fast-food restaurant we went to had applications for E-ZPass. One restaurant even had a vending machine for the pass. At another fast-food restaurant, a small office for E-ZPass purchases was being built.

In our area, the only E-ZPass promotion I have noticed is a highway advertisement with an 800 number, which most people probably can't write down as they are whizzing past in their cars.

If E-ZPass were advertised more in this area, maybe more people would sign up for it, and lines at the Dulles Toll Road booths, especially the main toll booth, would dwindle.

Lesley Rackowski

Vienna

I agree. However, Virginia was years behind Maryland in adopting E-ZPass and is slow to market the system. It stands to reason that if everyone had a pass, the Virginia Department of Transportation could save money on toll collection, and more customers could move more quickly through toll facilities.

VDOT is thinking about making E-ZPass available at transportation centers (such as the one at the Ballston Metro station) and some retail outlets, according to Ryan Hall, a VDOT spokesman.

Some suggestions for transportation officials: Put the applications at Department of Motor Vehicles branches, libraries, gas stations and other heavily traveled locations. Or see if you can attach them to correspondence that the state regularly sends out, such as state income tax booklets, DMV renewal forms and county auto tax forms. Eventually, VDOT will catch up -- I hope.

To enroll, log on to www.ezpassva.com or call 877-762-7824.

Eating on Metro

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

What should be the appropriate action for me as a passenger when I see someone eating or drinking in the Metro system? It happens very frequently.

I am loath to approach the individual as it might prompt a verbal or physical confrontation. I asked a station attendant once. He shrugged his shoulders, saying there was not much he could do.

I am a Foreign Service officer who returns to the city about once a year and finds that one of the best features of the Metro system is its general cleanliness. Much of that must have to do with Metro's policy of not permitting passengers to eat inside the system.

However, many people openly ignore the station entrance signs banning eating and begin chowing down once they are inside.

Maybe some of your readers have suggestions.

As I mentioned, I prefer not to approach someone when the outcome could be a fight.

Dennis McCann

American Embassy, Athens

Your instinct not to challenge the person is a good one.

One option is to duck out of your car during a station stop, enter another car and use the intercom to notify the operator. Do you folks have other suggestions?

Ticket -- and Tow

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In past columns, readers have wondered why illegally parked cars are not ticketed during rush hour. I commute daily on Connecticut Avenue and often see cars with one or more tickets blocking needed lanes.

I question why the towing laws, which are clearly marked on a multitude of signs, are not enforced!

The parked cars often create a dangerous situation in which drivers have to come to sudden stops and then negotiate merging into other lanes of moving traffic. I have often seen or been in many such situations in which accidents were narrowly avoided and traffic flow was severely disrupted.

Either these cars should be towed or the signs should be removed for a less obscured view!

Mark McCullough

Washington

Illegal parking during rush hours is the number one reason for gridlock in downtown Washington. Not only is a lane of traffic taken up by one miscreant, but drivers trying to get around the obstacle have to make risky merges.

First comes the ticket, then the tow. The city will ticket and tow illegally parked cars that are reported by the public, according to Mary Myers, spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Public Works.

The way to report them is to call 202-727-1000 and get a tracking number. If you report chronic situations and see that nothing is done, send me an e-mail in a month, along with your tracking number. Whatever the city's approach to illegal parking, the amount that goes on suggests it is not working very well.

Bus Blocks Box

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

At 6:20 p.m. June 2, I was heading south on 30th Street NW in Georgetown, approaching M Street. Traffic kept blocking the intersection, and as I approached it on a red light, a Metrobus stopped right in the intersection, blocking it almost completely.

The light then turned green for me, and a taxi driver behind me started blowing his horn and tried to cut around me, which he couldn't do. The light turned red again, the bus finally moved, and the cabbie cut around me and crossed M Street on a red light.

The bus never should have entered the intersection, and the taxi, with a passenger, could have killed someone. Where are the police? I wish I had been able to get information about the bus and cab, but I couldn't believe what I was experiencing.

Judy Karo

Silver Spring

Metrobus drivers are supposed to follow traffic laws. Proceeding through a red light or getting stuck in an intersection can be traffic violations.

You can report them by calling Metro at 202-637-1328 with as much detail as you can get, including the number of the bus (a four-digit number displayed on all sides), street, direction traveled, time, day and violation.

Metro promises to look into such complaints, according to spokesman Steven Taubenkibel.

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

You can write to Dr. Gridlock at 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers e-mails, at drgridlock@washpost.com, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening telephone numbers. Dr. Gridlock cannot take phone calls.