Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I live in Maryland and bought a used 2005 Buick Century here. The dealership gave me only a rear temporary tag and is processing my new tag request.

There is no place to put a front plate on my car. There is no frame and, short of getting out a drill and bending the plate (a little), I don't see how I can get one on.

I guess I'll have to wait and see how many plates I receive. Maybe car manufacturers are making models for specific regions. My car was originally from Florida, where they need only one plate.

Patrice Ryan

Great Mills

It's your responsibility to make sure your Maryland-registered vehicle has a front license plate. I would make the dealership install the front and rear frames, with temporary license tags, before I left the lot. I'd write it into the sales contract.

Once you leave the dealer's lot with only a rear tag, you are in violation of Maryland law and can be cited.

Now that you're in this pickle, head immediately to your mechanic and ask him to install a front plate. It doesn't have to be positioned dead center, but it does have to be on the front.

2 Plates Ease Identification

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I truly cannot understand why some drivers are getting all heated up about missing front license plates on Maryland vehicles.

What purpose, specifically, does a front plate serve? If a car is speeding toward you, perhaps fleeing a crime scene, how would one be able to memorize the front plate? All I would be able to tell is that, yes, that car definitely had a rectangular piece of metal affixed to its front bumper, and it was white in color, with some numbers, or maybe some letters, or perhaps both!

It is far easier to memorize the rear plate of a car as it is traveling away from you.

John M.B. Essex

University Park

Law enforcement officials in Maryland argue that they want a front plate to more easily identify vehicles. Most states require two plates for that reason.

Safer in Silver Spring?

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

May I add a word to the comments you have received regarding the bigoted, ignorant remarks made by the Silver Spring man regarding the safety -- or lack thereof -- of living in Prince George's County [Dr. Gridlock, Sept. 29]?

It occurs to me he might want to move from Silver Spring as well, because he actually lives a lot closer than I do to areas where most of the crimes occur.

Given what has gone on in Silver Spring of late, I wonder if he has put bars on his windows yet?

Jean Winters

Fort Washington

Parents Are Responsible

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Concerning juvenile delinquency, on or off Metro, I have observed and read of many incidents and am always disappointed in the suggested corrections.

The problem is caused by poor -- or no -- parental control.

Once that fact is acknowledged, there is some hope for changing behavior; otherwise, you're wasting your time.

Steve Angst

Upper Marlboro

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 exact same zone to the exact same 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?

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.

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 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.

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 gas 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.

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 breaking the speed limit?

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 free clinics at the FedEx Field parking lots.

All three schools offer one-day courses. The first two cost between $200 and $300.

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

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.