I have been driving for 42 years, 30 years in the Washington metropolitan area. I have driven in 37 states and I am convinced that the least courteous, worst drivers are in the D.C. area and that the best drivers are in California.

The recent California freeway murders do not dissuade me from the view that California drivers, particularly Southern California drivers, are the most courteous and disciplined -- the best -- drivers in the United States. The exceptions are not many.

In California, if you signal to make a lane change, with few exceptions a driver will let up on the accelerator and let you in. In this area, if you signal a lane change, cars will step hard on the accelerator to get past you before you can move over. Usually, to change lanes, you have to hold your breath, poke your nose into the next lane and pray that the nearest car behind you has good brakes and that the driver issober.

In California, you can make a left turn after two or three oncoming cars have passed. In the D.C. area, you have to sit there holding up all the cars behind you, sometimes for several minutes, until every last oncoming car has passed -- or until a California-trained driver comes along to let you turn. The same holds true for entering a busy road from an intersection.

In California, I can go five miles over the speed limit and still feel like I am moving. On city and suburban streets here, I do that and I have to check to see if my gearshift is in reverse, the way the cars pass me on both sides. Dangerous passing on the right is a common occurrence in thisarea.

My fellow Washington drivers, you are terrible.

Sour grapes? No way. I live here. It's my home and I intend to stay here until some impatient egomaniac wipes me out.

CHARLES H. BRADFORD Arlington