Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You've often observed that many commercial driving schools in our area are little more than certificate mills, and you have warned that parents need to take direct responsibility for properly teaching their children how to drive.

What about middle-age adults who lack confidence in their own driving abilities, are terrified of Washington-area traffic and could benefit from a good defensive driving course? I have a friend who admits she could use a good accident-avoidance skills program but has been able to find local courses geared only to teenagers or traffic court defendants.

Are there any programs in the Washington area that you would recommend for an adult refresher course?

My suggestion that she look into the well-regarded BSR program at Summit Point, W.Va., was shot down as being "too far away." Any advice you might have about more accessible options would be most appreciated.

Ken Gaul


BSR is just over the Virginia border, near Charles Town, W.Va. Another program is run by Car Guys of Rockville (800-800-GUYS). The Potomac Driving School in Rockville was recently recommended by a reader. Good luck!

Va. Eligibility Ages

Dear Dr. Gridlock

Is it true that the age of eligibility for a driver's permit in Virginia is changing from 15 years and 9 months to an older age? If so, what are the new rules?

Herve Kopciak


The minimum age to obtain a Virginia learner's permit is 15 years and 6 months. The minimum age to get a driver's license is 16 years and 3 months. There are no changes afoot, according to Pam Goheen, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

Never Too Young

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Parents need to realize that they start influencing their children's future driving habits when the kids are about 3 years old. Like it or not, children tend to imitate the behavior of those around them. Parents who ferry their kids around are setting an example that no amount of driving instruction can overcome.

Jean Busby


Live Where You Work

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have been following traffic here in the Washington area for over 10 years, and it seems that one factor is ignored by almost everyone, even the state transportation departments and our elected officials. They have been trying to lessen traffic congestion by widening roads, reconfiguring roads, etc. What they forget is that traffic is not made up of roads; it's made up of cars. If you don't reduce the number of cars on the road, all the road work is for naught.

Americans have to get used to the fact that we cannot continue to drive our vehicles everywhere we want to go, especially in this city. We have to come up with more and better mass transit, including expanding Metro inside the city, in the suburbs and into areas such as Woodbridge, Manassas and Frederick. Many residents of those outlying areas don't take the bus or mass transit because they would have to transfer too many times to reach their destinations.

Another change we need to make is to live closer to our jobs. We are so pigheaded about choosing where we live. We drive in hours of traffic so our kids can stay at the same school, or so we can live in Maryland rather than Virginia. If we lived closer to our jobs, we would be much better off and less stressed.

Our kids are pretty resilient and can adjust to a new school. Why are people living in Rockville and above and driving to near Dulles to work? For God's sake, move. The money you save in gas and your time will be worth it.

Terence Heron


Plus, our children would gain needed nurturing and education time. The farther out our population grows, the more costly any mass transit options become. Alternatives to moving closer to one's job could include working at home, a four-day work week, satellite offices and staggered work hours. If gasoline prices keep going up, more people will be driven to use mass transit.

And Build Roads, Too

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Are we trying to re-create Route 1 in western Prince William County? I count three 7-Elevens, one On the Run convenience store and a BP gas station in a half-mile stretch of Route 29 in Gainesville, and a Wawa store is on the way. How many gas stations/quick marts with entrances and exits on congested Route 29 do we need?

I am now watching the Madison Crescent mixed-use development going up at the corner of Routes 15 and 29, plus numerous other new subdivisions up and down Route 15, and traffic has to stop to let heavy construction trucks in and out of these sites.

How in the world do you think all the future vehicles are going to get in and out of their subdivisions and shopping centers without more traffic lights? Are we going to have a light on every block? Route 29 traffic is already backed up a mile in the morning from the light in Gainesville. The plan for the Interstate 66 Gainesville interchange is still years away.

Let's not even talk about the traffic disasters that Nissan Pavilion causes during its events.

I am not opposed to new subdivisions. I'm enjoying the increased shopping opportunities and property values that have come to an area that had little of either for most of the 28 years I have lived here.

But there does not seem to be any thought given to resulting road conditions or how many gas stations the area really needs.

I vote that every county supervisor approving these projects be forced to move into this end of the county and commute to Fairfax. That's already one hour away.

Lynne McClure


I feel your pain. It's only going to get worse. The problem is that the county supervisors believe their legacy is to develop land, regardless of whether there are any transportation improvements to accommodate the new growth. There aren't.

Perhaps you folks should go to county board meetings with signs that say, "No Growth Without Transportation." The state, as you know, controls the roads, and the county supervisors control development. The two sides aren't meshing. Hence, your letter.

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.