Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I would like to raise the topic of panhandling on Prince George's County streets, specifically at the intersection of Allentown and Brinkley roads. The last I heard, panhandling was illegal in the county, yet there seems to be no enforcement of the law.

On any given Saturday, it is common to find high school students wading through traffic, panhandling for change, presumably for a charitable cause.

I believe the schools' practice of sending children into the streets begging for money is appalling and unsightly. I cannot believe that the faculty and parents are teaching our future leaders how to beg for money instead of teaching students how to earn.

What happened to bake sales, car washes and talent shows? What happened to parents and teachers seeking sponsorships through local business and churches? Will it take a child getting hit by a car while panhandling for the police and County Council to respond?

Fletcher White

Fort Washington

This has been a recurring problem in Prince George's County. Panhandling in the streets is a violation of county law, and police tell me they take it seriously.

"Feel free to call us, especially if young children are involved," said Cpl. Debbi Carlson, a spokeswoman for the Prince George's County Police Department.

The number to call is 301-333-4000. If there are still chronic problems at a certain location, go to the nearest police district station and talk to the commander or duty officer.

I share your concern about youth in traffic. It is a dangerous way to raise money.

Two-Plate States

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Has Maryland stopped requiring front license plates on cars? I have noticed an increasing number of cars with rear Maryland license plates but no front plates.

When did Maryland change the rule, if it did? And if front plates are still required, why isn't the law enforced?

Ben Kaufman

Silver Spring

Maryland, Virginia and the District all require plates front and rear. Some other states do not require a front plate, and I wonder if there is some confusion.

I haven't received other letters suggesting that this is a widespread problem. Maryland law enforcement wrote 3,096 missing license plate violations for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2004, and 2,634 for the fiscal year before that. But those statistics do not distinguish between missing front plates and rear plates. The fine is $55, with no court costs.

If you see a violation, hit #77 on your cell phone, and police may respond, depending on their availability.

Is anyone else seeing one-plate cars in a two-plate state?

Parents Are Best Teachers

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My 15-year-old son recently finished a driver's education program with a well-known driving school to satisfy a requirement for obtaining a driver's license.

Imagine my surprise upon hearing that his teacher had not taken him on the Capital Beltway or Interstate 270, both of which are less than five miles from where we live.

That experience, it turns out, is not unique to my son. Almost all of his peers received the same inadequate driving instruction.

Granted, the responsibility for ensuring that a teenager is ready to drive does fall predominantly on the shoulders of parents, but in light of the current spate of teenage deaths due to poor driving skills, it would behoove driving schools, and the authorities who should oversee them, to take their jobs more seriously.

Mercia Ordman Rindler

Potomac

You would think the state legislatures would require such schools to provide certain basic instruction, such as practice on an interstate highway, but that's not the case. The legislators are asleep when it comes to driver education standards.

For years I've cautioned readers to expect little from these commercial driving schools. By all means, do not think your teenager is ready to drive solo just by "graduating" from one of these schools.

Teenagers should receive their primary driver's education from their parents, over a long period, with training in every conceivable driving situation (including interstate highways). Only when parents feel their child is ready to drive solo should they allow a driver's license.

The commercial driving schools provide certificates necessary to get a license. Expect nothing more.

Signs Slowing Traffic

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I was driving south recently on Interstate 95 in Howard County in freely moving traffic, but as I approached the exit for Route 198, traffic came to a very sudden stop. Lots of screeching tires, and one car even veering off onto the shoulder to avoid hitting another.

The apparent cause of the sudden slowdown was an electronic overhead sign warning of delays and slow traffic approaching the exit for Interstate 495.

I took note, as that was my intended destination, and continued on my way.

Immediately after the sign, traffic picked up again and was moving freely . . . until another electronic overhead sign appeared right before the exit for I-495 with the same "traffic warning."

Once again, traffic came to a drastic halt as motorists hit the brakes to read the sign. And, just as before, as soon as I had passed under the sign, traffic resumed its easy flow, even as I exited onto I-495.

So, my question is, who is in charge of deciding when and what messages should be posted on those overhead signs? I can certainly see their utility in alerting motorists of accidents and road closures, but in this case they seemed to cause more traffic problems than they prevented.

Amy Pottberg

Elkridge

The Maryland State Highway Administration is in charge. The agency monitors state highways from a command center near Baltimore-Washington International Airport. This matter has come up before, and the state says the signs are serving their purpose in getting drivers to slow down.

I'm not sure how the state could do it better. Thoughts?

Police Presence

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Law enforcement officers in our city certainly don't deserve to be reported for parking illegally to grab a bite to eat or a cup of coffee [Dr. Gridlock, July 7].

I support any type of police presence, even a double-parked police presence.

It is ludicrous to expect officers to park legally while conducting non-emergency business. If, by parking illegally, officers are able to patronize local establishments and increase their on-street presence, I fully support the practice.

We should be doing everything we can to support these officers -- not griping about a motorcycle on the sidewalk.

And your request to readers to pass along information about offending vehicles for police to investigate? Please. These men and women deserve far more respect, support and accommodation.

Ed Farley

Washington

Well, that is certainly a counterpoint. The voices I have heard on this subject are mad that police park illegally. They don't like police doing something they can't do, especially when police are not on an emergency call.

However, now that you mention it, if I were a downtown merchant, it would be okay by me if police parked on a sidewalk near my front door or picked up a cup of coffee nearby.

We disagree over the matter of double parking, however. We don't want police on a non-emergency call blocking a lane of traffic. We want police to move traffic along, not block it.

Thanks for your views, Mr. Farley.

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.