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.

New 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 younger than 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, visit www.marylandmva.com.

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

One-for-Two Plates

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I, too, have noticed an increasing number of cars without a front plate [Dr. Gridlock, July 21], despite the fact that Maryland law requires front and rear plates.

I own and operate two businesses in the Waldorf area so I am often out driving around the area. I see an average of six to 10 cars without a front plate daily.

I have heard that some new Maryland residents, in order to avoid paying the state taxes and fees required to register two cars, will register only one car and use the two legal plates on the rear of two cars.

Despite the very high level of confidence I have in the Charles County Sheriff's Office, I can see how difficult it might be for an officer to notice a plate violation and ticket the violator. But this is obviously a growing problem, and it is costing the state in lost taxes and registration fees.

Bill Sturn

Waldorf

I checked with Buel Young, spokesman for the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, and he said he had heard absolutely nothing about this. Maybe these people are putting one over on the state.

Live Where You Work

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.

Choosing One's Commute

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In a past column, you recommended that Caroline Miller relocate to Prince George's County to minimize both her commute to Annapolis and her husband's commute to Manassas [Dr. Gridlock, June 9].

I've lived in the Washington area for 25 years, and I would never consider moving to Prince George's County because of its crime rate. In fact, I recommend that everyone in Prince George's County sell and move to where your tax dollars will be more effectively spent.

There are many aspects to relocation. Crime and car thefts are prime issues in Prince George's County and have been for years.

John Binford

Silver Spring

That should be a consideration. People move to jurisdictions weighing all the factors that are important to them. Convenience to job location ought to be one.

Teens and Cycles

Dear Dr. Gridlock

In response to Nancy Jennings's letter [Dr. Gridlock, June 30], you are right on in your effort to discourage a 16-year-old from driving a motorcycle. There is a great difference between driving a car and driving a "bike."

I lost an 18-year-old stepson because the auto in front of him stopped suddenly, and he struck the rear of the car. He was thrown from his bike and landed in the path of oncoming traffic. The driver who struck him had no chance to avoid doing so.

The young lady needs to get some real experience in traffic, which can best be done behind the wheel of a larger car such as a Chevy Caprice or Ford Crown Victoria.

More mass between her and anything else on the road will help keep her safe.

Stu Newman

Bowie

Sorry about your loss. I would never allow one of my teenage daughters to operate or ride on a motorcycle. They are too inexperienced for the level of skill needed.

Stay on the Road

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I believe that many unexplained roadside accidents involving pedestrians, bikers, parked cars and police are caused by drivers not being aware that they are steering where they are looking.

That tendency can be exacerbated by alcohol, drugs or fatigue.

A public awareness campaign, along with the adage "keep your eyes on the road," may be needed.

Morris Warren

Bowie

It is true that people tend to subconsciously steer their vehicle to where they are looking, such as off the road. We need to be more aware of that, particularly on long drives.

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.