Would you like to know how the waiting time at your Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration branch compares with the wait at other branches? The following letter prompted us to do some research.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I read several articles about a year ago in The Washington Post describing long lines at MVA offices in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, among others. I don't know if long waits still are common, but my recent experiences at the Cumberland office in Western Maryland offer a different perspective.

* Two years ago: I was third in line when the office opened at 8:30 a.m. I needed Maryland plates for one of my cars, having just moved here. I was out by 8:40 a.m.

* Last year: I needed to transfer my Vermont driver's license to Maryland. There was no wait for the eye test or photo. I was in by 8:35 a.m. and out by 8:45 a.m.

* Today: I needed to renew my plates. I was in at 9:15 a.m. and out at 9:25 a.m.

The Cumberland MVA office is just off Interstate 68. From the Baltimore and Montgomery County areas, it's a two-hour drive. Parts of I-68 are magnificent; the road itself is an engineering marvel. Cumberland is the seat of Allegany County, home to several attractions, including Rocky Gap Lodge & Golf Resort (hiking, canoeing) and the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, to name just two. Garrett County, to the west, has several recreational attractions, including Deep Creek Lake and Wisp Ski Resort.

The bottom line: My three experiences at the Cumberland MVA office are no guarantee that someone in Gaithersburg could spend four hours round trip and about $20 in gas to avoid waiting for four hours in the Gaithersburg MVA office and be in and out in 15 minutes in Cumberland. But I think it's a safe bet. Plus there's all that fresh air and scenery.

Raymond Schneider


I appreciate your promotion of Western Maryland and your helpful hints to reduce waiting time, Mr. Schneider. But residents living closer to Washington shouldn't have to go that far to be served in a reasonable manner.

First, the branch you visited has an average waiting time of only six minutes -- the lowest in Maryland -- according to Buel Young, the MVA spokesman.

But the waiting times at other branches, now that we have automation, are a far cry from the bad old days of hours-long waits and no chairs. Consider these average waits at full-service branches:

Montgomery County (Gaithersburg) -- 42 minutes.

Prince George's County (Largo) -- 28 minutes.

Prince George's County (Beltsville) -- 28 minutes.

Frederick County (Frederick) -- 41 minutes.

Anne Arundel County (Glen Burnie) -- 59 minutes.

Anne Arundel County (Annapolis) -- 17 minutes.

St. Mary's County (Loveville) -- 8 minutes.

Charles County (Waldorf) -- 27 minutes.

So, if you really want to reduce your wait, you could visit St. Mary's County. But the reasonable waiting times listed above look like a customer would be better off at the hometown branch.

A footnote: The MVA is building another full-service branch in Montgomery County, at White Oak. It should be finished by the end of this year. That should reduce the wait at Gaithersburg.

P.S. It is best to visit your MVA branch in the first half of the month, rather than the latter half.

What do you folks think of these waiting times?

Readers' Pet Peeves

I recently solicited motorists' pet peeves about other motorists [Dr. Gridlock, Aug. 14]. Not surprisingly, there are plenty of bad habits that drive people bonkers. Here are some:

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Here are my pet peeves and some related advice for other drivers:

* Get off the phone. The dead giveaway that a driver is talking is that quarter-mile-long empty space in front of their vehicle.

* Plan ahead. Some people automatically assume that if they are using their signal, I have to let them in. Just because you wait until the last second to cross four lanes of traffic to reach your exit does not mean I have to brake and let you in.

* Do not use the exit/merge ramps as your personal lane to get around slow traffic; that's just not right.

* If you're in the left lane, move over when someone comes up behind you. You can move back. It's harder to pass on the right.

Melanie Keltz

Silver Spring

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

One bad habit I see quite frequently is tailgating. Why does anyone think it is a good idea to tailgate when traveling 60 mph?

There is no margin for error, and there is no good reason to tailgate.

Terry J. Harbonic

Chevy Chase

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My pet peeve is drivers who cannot be bothered to turn on their directional signals when making turns. Is it just too much trouble to flip a switch?

Also, many drivers pull to the left to make a right turn or to the right to make a left turn. The person behind such a driver doesn't know what to expect. How do people learn these habits?

Sally McCarthy


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My pet peeve is police officers who fail to signal for lane changes. I feel it's important that they act as role models as often as they can.

If they've got lights and sirens going, that's one thing, but for routine driving, they really need to use their blinkers.

Catherine S. Lyon


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My pet peeve is drivers who refuse to turn on their lights in the pouring rain, making them very difficult to see. I almost ran into one of these phantom cars at twilight on the Capital Beltway. Maybe they don't realize that even if they can see fine, perhaps others cannot see them.

Michael Hoyt

Silver Spring

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My pet peeve is drivers who insist on driving exactly the same slow speed as the driver in the next lane, side by side, effectively setting up a barrier to all other traffic.

Either speed up or slow down. Or move over! If you have an open space ahead of you and a pile of cars behind you, you are probably guilty.

Of course, some of those who practice this are trying to do traffic speed enforcement. If that is your purpose, join the police!

Chris Miller


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Here are my pet peeves:

* People who treat the world as their ashtray, flicking cigarettes out their car windows. I once saw someone empty their car's ashtray out their door while they were waiting for a traffic light. It's not only littering, but it could be dangerous if a still-lit butt flies into the window of a car behind you.

* The folks traveling solo in the HOV lanes by virtue of the "blue light" they purchased and affixed to their dashboard. I saw a fellow in a Ford 500 sedan traveling solo in the HOV lanes of Interstate 95 this morning with an aftermarket blue light on his dash. Maybe we should all look into that method, since it's obviously cheaper than buying a new hybrid car.

John Braun

Lake Ridge

A blue light is the exclusive domain of law enforcement. I suppose the aftermarket devices you are seeing could be for undercover police work. Impersonating a law enforcement officer carries a serious penalty.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My pet peeve is people who refuse to also turn on their headlights when they have turned on their windshield wipers. It's a simple act, but most helpful.

Gene McClung

Potomac Falls

It's also the law.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Perhaps your reader who complained about drivers who speed up or slow down to prevent others from entering their lane is, in fact, the real jerk [Dr. Gridlock, Sept. 11].

Your reader may be one of those people who try to speed past everyone else in exit lanes so they can merge (and cut others off) at the last minute, gaining an advantage over the sane, responsible drivers.

Anyone who travels south on Interstate 495 toward Tysons Corner can attest to that kind of behavior.

Drivers speeding along in the three left lanes suddenly attempt to cross two to four lanes to get on the Dulles Toll Road exit ramp before Tysons Corner. Their actions do nothing but cause stop-and-go, bumper-to-bumper tie-ups.

Responsible drivers anticipate which lane they should be in when approaching their exit and do their best to help all traffic move smoothly.

Such responsibility is often in vain because of the jerks who want to gain a 15-second personal advantage but end up delaying everyone by 15 to 20 minutes.

Herb Miller


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Among my pet peeves are:

* Drivers who flick their cigarette ashes or butts out of their window instead of using the ashtray. Convertible drivers are rewarded with ashes or worse flying into their cars.

* Drivers who take nap time at a traffic light, particularly in "turn only" lanes.

* Pokey "left-laners." At first I thought all these people were British, since they head for the left lane as soon as they turn onto a roadway!

* "Swingers" who make a wide swing in the opposite direction when turning.

* Those who apply makeup or write when driving.

David Wase


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Among my pet peeves are drivers who make a right turn on red without even a pause. As a pedestrian, I am frequently nearly hit by drivers, usually in SUVs, who whip right through a turn without even a glance at the crosswalk.

Catherine Lee

Crystal City

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My pet peeve is drivers in the left lane who, when a traffic light turns green, stay behind the stop line and fail to move up into the intersection and/or turn until the last moment.

I have even seen some of these folks -- who are always ahead of me, of course -- stay behind the stop line through the complete green light cycle until the light turns red again.

Robert Van Epps


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My pet peeves are:

* Rolling stops. Stop signs and red lights are there for a reason. Living in a community with direct access to Interstate 395, I can't count how many times I have witnessed drivers barely slowing down for the stop signs. That is not only dangerous; it's idiotic.

* Constant speeding, especially on George Washington Memorial Parkway. The parkway is not an interstate. Stay within the speed limit (40 mph for a long stretch in the vicinity of the airport and 50 mph on other parts). I routinely am passed by vehicles driving in excess of 50, even 60 mph.

* Combining driving with other activities such as reading, eating, smoking, talking on a non-hands-free cell phone or watching a TV or video screen.

Robert Johnson


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.