Dear Dr. Gridlock

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

Herve Kopciak

Ashburn

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

Parking Impasse

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

While driving on one-way 18th Street NW between F and G streets during a recent morning rush hour, I noticed a car parked in the left lane, which is supposed to remain clear during rush hours. Any blockage of these rush-hour lanes can cause severe backups. When I noticed a police officer looking at the car, I thought, "Good! That illegally parked vehicle will be removed."

The next morning, what did I see but the same car parked in the same place, apparently unmoved since the previous morning! The car was not identified as a government or official vehicle, but it was displaying handicap plates.

Now, if it were up to me, I wouldn't give even the president a pass on parking illegally during rush hour. Do you know why this vehicle was allowed to remain in its illegal spot?

Rick Johnson

Burke

No, but you can report such chronic problems to the mayor's command center at 202-727-1000. Keep track of your report. If nothing happens in a few weeks, please write back to me, with license plate numbers and vehicle location, and I'll contact the police.

Illegal parking is the single biggest cause of downtown gridlock, and police should be all over the violators.

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

Gainesville

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.

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

Manassas

Adult Refresher Courses

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-aged adults who lack confidence in their own driving ability, are terrified of Washington-area traffic and could benefit from a good behind-the-wheel course in defensive driving? 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

Burke

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!

Registration Safekeeping

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Your advice to carry a vehicle's registration card in your wallet or purse [Dr. Gridlock, June 9] is terrific -- as long as you always drive the same vehicle.

In most of the families I know with multiple cars, family members drive whichever car is available at the time or best meets their needs, such as for a solo errand to the grocery store, a mulch hauling trip from the hardware store or a turn chauffeuring soccer team members to the game.

I agree with the concept of taking every step possible to thwart car thieves, but with today's hectic lifestyle, many of us are doing well just to find the car keys, much less a vital piece of paper like a registration card.

Please, let's think of another solution!

Sam Wood

Alexandria

All right, I'm open to another solution. The original concern was that thieves would break into vehicles and take the vehicle and its registration.

Let's hear other ideas.

Buses Won't Be Stranded

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Why in the world doesn't Metrobus use a silent alarm that can be triggered by bus drivers? With Global Positioning System technology, such an alarm could alert the Metro police to the location of a bus sending out a distress call.

Chris Miller

Waldorf

Metrobuses do have such alarms, plus a bus's overhead sign can be adjusted to read "Call 911." Metro knows where all of its 1,400-plus buses are at any time because of an automated vehicle locator system that works like the LoJack car recovery system, according to spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein.

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.