As a result of growing awareness of the need to provide more extensive training before licensing, Maryland is making a number of changes Saturday 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 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Secure Those 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.
Thanks for the tip.
In Metro's Jaws
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I read the letter in your column about the close call with a Metro train door shutting on a baby stroller [Dr. Gridlock, May 29]. I experienced a similar situation when returning home from the White House Easter Egg Roll this year with my 7-year-old son, his friend and my mother. We were getting off the train at Crystal City along with many other people, including several children, one of whom was in a stroller.
Everyone was lined up at the door to get out, with the stroller going first, so there was no dillydallying. The doors opened, the stroller went first, the chimes rang and the door slammed on me and my son's friend, whose hand I was holding.
A man also waiting to exit the train helped me force the door open and helped my mother, son and others out. Meanwhile, several people were still waiting to board! My shoulder was sore for several hours from the impact of the door, and the children and my mother were frightened.
Would it make sense, with a large party, to line up at different doors? These Metro iron-jawed doors seem to be a problem. Maybe the new citizen advisory board can help.
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 email@example.com, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening telephone numbers.