Dear Dr. Gridlock:

A letter writer recently posed the following question to you: "My fiance and I are planning to move soon. I will be working in Annapolis, and his job is in Manassas. Any suggestions on a location that would minimize commute times? In particular, what would traffic be like if we lived in Alexandria? Silver Spring?"[Dr. Gridlock, June 9].

Your answer was to consider Prince George's County. I disagree.

The only real and viable answer to minimizing commute times is to live near where one works. There are dozens of not-so-real answers as to why one cannot do that, but there are an equal if not greater number of real answers as to why it is possible, if not preferable.

Remember that every time we curse "traffic," we are cursing ourselves. The cause behind commuting traffic is simple: People are not living near where they work.

It may take sacrifices, hard choices and some balancing of priorities to do that, but consider the alternatives, most of which are misery-making, drain resources and are ultimately ineffective.

This engaged couple now planning on a new life together may be spending a great deal of their time, energy and finances apart from each other in single-occupancy vehicles.

Marriage is a ride-share, not a single-occupancy vehicle.

Paul M. Foer

Annapolis

In the best of all worlds, that's the way it should be: both spouses living near their work. In this case, one has chosen to work in Annapolis and the other in Manassas.

You are right: This couple's commuting will cause an enormous energy drain. They may have to make a change in their choice of job locations.

Tougher Md. License Laws

As a result of growing awareness of the need to provide more extensive training before licensing, Maryland is making a number of changes Oct. 1 to its laws governing drivers, including:

* Learner's permits must be held for six months before one can move on to a provisional license. The old requirement was four months. The eligibility age to obtain a learner's permit remains at 15 years, 9 months.

* The amount of required practice time increases from 40 to 60 hours. At least 10 of those hours must be at night. Practice time is to be conducted with a driver who is 21 or older and has held a license for at least three years. Both the student and the licensed driver have to sign logs indicating the practice performed.

* Drivers under age 18 can no longer use any wireless communications device, except to call 911.

* Provisional drivers must remain free of traffic offenses for 18 months, or the 18-month waiting period starts all over. What's new is that the plea arrangement called "probation before judgment" will also count as a traffic offense.

For more information and other changes, log on to www.marylandmva.com.

All those changes seem to make sense to provide our young drivers more protection. What do you think?

Thieves Sell Front Plates

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

A possible reason for some Maryland cars missing their front license plates [Dr. Gridlock, July 21] -- and I, like you, haven't noticed a widespread problem -- is the theft of one license plate from an unsuspecting car owner. Thieves put it on, or sell it to someone who puts it on, an otherwise unlicensed vehicle.

A few years ago, my wife came home and parked in the street rather than the driveway. I noticed later that day that only the front plate was gone.

Of course, we had to get a new set of plates, so I had to drive to the Motor Vehicle Administration with only one plate (and a note in the windshield explaining the missing plate).

I fastened the new plates with one-way screws.

Don Hirschfeld

Temple Hills

Thanks for the tip.

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

Dr. Gridlock appears Thursdays in Extra and Sundays 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 drgridlock@washpost.com, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening telephone numbers.