Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have tried unsuccessfully for some time now to find out from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles whether any license plate recycling programs exist in the area. If Northern Virginia does not have such a program, does the District or Maryland?

Thank you very much for your assistance, both in this matter and in all of the useful information you provide weekly. Your column is a must-read for me every Thursday!

Clara Ohr


I am inferring from your letter that you wish to recycle your own license plates. If so, that would not be a good idea. Virginia law requires that you return unneeded license plates to your DMV branch.

You don't want them floating around where they might be used by a car thief. I get sad letters about that problem from people who have donated vehicles to charity and have neglected to remove and turn in their license plates.

P.S. The Virginia DMV does recycle license plates, according to spokeswoman Pam Goheen.

Coast to Save

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Though gasoline prices are coming down, I have a suggestion that should increase auto mileage noticeably, especially in town: Coast whenever you can. Here are some procedures for coasting:

1) Prepare by making sure your tires are properly inflated. That will decrease rolling resistance and increase tire life. The recommended pressures are usually listed on a tag near the driver's door.

2) Start out sensibly. Don't accelerate quickly to the appropriate speed -- especially away from stoplights. Just push the pedal to where it needs to be for the speed limit and let the car pick up at its own pace. If anyone honks, wave cheerfully at them, secure in the knowledge that you are saving money.

3) As soon as you sight a red stoplight, coast into it so that little braking is needed to come to a full stop.

4) When you come to a downgrade, don't motor down the slope. Let up on the gas and let gravity do the work.

There are lots of hills over here in Arlington where you can coast for up to half a mile. And you will be surprised by how far you can coast down even mild grades. Cars made in the last several years do much, much better than those of previous automotive eras.

Practice these techniques until they become instinctive. Remember that a 10 percent increase in your mileage -- say from 20 to 22 mpg -- drops the effective price of a $3 gallon to $2.70. And I can achieve that increment -- not on every tank, but the majority of them -- with my 3,400-pound convertible.

Alan Bosch


Thanks for the tips. We could use them in this time of high gasoline prices.

However, I don't know about you, but if I try to drive at or under the speed limit on most any street, it's just a matter of seconds before someone is tailgating me. That leaves me with three bad choices: (a) put up with that dangerous practice, (b) speed up or (3) pull over and let the tailgater pass.

I wonder how one employs your tips and deals with tailgaters.

Dulles and HOV

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

What is the afternoon HOV rule for westbound Interstate 66? I use that route coming from the District, where the signs say that from 4 to 6:30 p.m., HOV-2 for Dulles International Airport traffic is allowed.

One might assume from those signs that I could drive solo on Interstate 66 during HOV hours as long as I am going to Dulles.

One might also assume that saying one is going to Dulles would be a valid defense to an HOV violation ticket. But I don't think that's the case, because every day I see cars pulled over by the police on the entrance ramps in Arlington and farther west, presumably for HOV violations.

I doubt that the cops would be pulling people over if the drivers could avoid a ticket simply by saying that they are going to Dulles, even if they aren't.

Any illumination would be greatly appreciated.

Ted Steele


It helps to have a document -- an airline ticket, passenger receipt or itinerary -- as proof of your Dulles destination. For those who don't, Virginia State Police have developed a set of questions that help them determine whether the solo motorist is actually going to Dulles. Police are understandably reluctant to share those questions.

P.S. Even if you stop at Dulles just for a cup of coffee or to buy a newspaper, you qualify for a Dulles exemption from HOV rules in the morning rush. Some people do that and then take the Dulles Access Road and Interstate 66 inbound all the way to the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge.

Taxi Fares: Meter or Zone?

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am writing in response to the Dr. Gridlock Live Online discussion on meter or zone fares for District taxis [, Oct. 24].

I ride cabs from Van Ness Street to the Watergate complex a couple of times a month. I realize it is up to me to know my fare, so I went to the city Web site On the home page, under "Information," there's a "Taxicab Zone Maps" link, which takes you to a map, a chart of zone charges and a fare calculator.

The zone system charges you according to the number of zones you travel through, from pickup point to drop off.

It does not charge you for time spent in traffic. I ride from the same start zone to the same destination zone every time I take this ride, and there can be only one fare.

When I got hassled by a cabbie, I pulled out the fare calculator printouts, and there was my fare in black and white from the D.C. Taxicab Commission. Argument over.

However, this Web site and its fare calculator are not well known. It's like Metro putting the location of its system maps in tiny type on its home page. Why are these important public services not promoted and displayed prominently?

I believe the zone system was designed to keep trips around downtown relatively inexpensive. If distances traveled were among the fare determinants, riders would be at the mercy of traffic and the cabbie's chosen route.

As a taxpayer, because I'm paying the fares of federal government officials (through their expense accounts) when they catch a cab for lunch or to head over to the State Department, I want the fares as low as possible. I know how much it costs to get from my house to work. I don't want it to change depending on traffic or what route is chosen.

I want the zone system to stay. I'm not convinced that it's so broken it needs fixing.

Sharon Buck


Thanks for the information. I suspect you have made yourself among the most knowledgeable of D.C. taxi customers. For visitors or suburbanites, however, the zone system can be perplexing because the customer often doesn't know what the fare should be.

I'm glad the zone system works for you and keeps the fares down. I prefer a meter. We then know the exact fare. No argument there, either.

What do you folks think: meters or zones for D.C. taxi fares?

Put On That Plate

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid does not have any place to attach a front plate. What am I to expect from the traffic police?

Lauren Merritt


A fine of $250 per citation. Plus, if you park in the District, the city's parking control aides will write you up in a heartbeat for failure to display a front plate if you live in a state that requires one.

Virginia, Maryland and the District require license plates front and rear. It's the law. And it's your responsibility to see that plates are mounted in front. They don't have to be positioned dead center, but they have to be in front. There is no license plate fairy to mount front plates or grant exemptions for some vehicles.

I wouldn't accept a new or used vehicle that didn't have mounted license plate frames, front and rear, and at least temporary license plates in them. I'd write that into the sales contract and make the local dealer install them. It's illegal to drive off their lot without front tags.

If you already have a car without front plates, take the problem to your mechanic, pronto.

No Traffic Enforcement

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I've called the police about drivers weaving in traffic and not using their turn signals. I've been told that unless the police witness it or I sign a warrant, there is nothing to be done. It almost makes me want to attach a camcorder to my car.

My solution to the problem would be to create a special traffic enforcement division. This division would only enforce traffic laws, so its officers would not have to be trained in law enforcement, just traffic law enforcement.

This new division would also create new jobs. It seems the current number of law enforcement personnel in the field is insufficient.

The funding for this division would come from an increase in traffic fines. If traffic fines were a big enough financial burden for most people, maybe they would be taken more seriously.

I think that by making drivers respect traffic laws, or at least obey them, we would have fewer accidents, and traffic would run more smoothly.

Jay Rubin

Falls Church

The city clearly doesn't want to do that; in fact, it has dissolved the former Traffic Division at police headquarters and dispersed those officers to district stations.

There is no department-wide, coordinated effort to issue moving citations to drivers. That -- along with a lack of voluntary compliance with traffic laws -- is why we seem to be heading more and more into downtown traffic anarchy.

I am with you on raising the fines. They were increased to $100 for illegal parking during rush hour, but that problem persists. Perhaps $250 is the next step.

Driving Schools

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

What is the name of the driving school you have recommended for teenagers? It was a school that taught defensive driving skills: skids, driving in bad weather, etc.

Caroline Enterline

Great Falls

Readers recommend Car Guys Inc. of Rockville (800-800 GUYS) or BSR Inc. of Summit Point, W.Va., just over the Loudoun County line (304-725-6512). Also Driver's Edge (702-896-6482) of Las Vegas has drawn many favorable reviews, but it comes to our area only once a year or so. It holds clinics at the FedEx Field parking lots.

All three schools offer one-day courses. The first two cost between $200 and $300, and Driver's Edge is free.

I commend you for looking into these courses. They can only help our young drivers.

Slow Driving Is Disruptive

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I love your column, and for the most part, I agree with much of what you and your readers say. However, when I read Tom Wiedemer's letter titled "Slow Down, Save Gas" [Dr. Gridlock, Oct. 20], I couldn't help but feel my blood pressure rising.

While it is sometimes true that driving 55 mph is more fuel efficient than driving 70 mph, staying slightly below posted speed limits as an act of social consciousness is a ludicrous endeavor.

The faster and smoother the traffic flows, the less time we spend in gridlock, affect the environment and experience stress.

There is nothing worse than a self-righteous individual like Wiedemer disrupting the flow of commuter traffic by driving below the posted speed limit to satisfy his own warped sense of social responsibility.

Ken Carlson


That depends on what your definition of the word "slow" is. Tom Wiedemer said in his letter that he is walking more, instead of driving, and motoring "at, or slightly below the posted speed limit" in order to save on fuel costs.

My view is that someone going 45 mph on one of our interstate highways is a traffic hazard (we've all seen them), since so many people are flying by at 70 mph-plus.

But shouldn't one be entitled to drive 52 to 55 mph in the right lane without joining the pack that is breaking the speed limit?

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

Dr. Gridlock appears Thursday in The Extra and Sunday 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, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening telephone numbers.