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.

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.