THE THREE-DAY SCRAMBLE that just swept the area was a grim example of what panicky hoarding can do to gasoline supplies, motorists' tempers and station-owners' nerves. Allocations of gasoline to the stations are lower. But the real drain at the pumps this last weekend was caused by the "toppers"-motorists topping off their tanks with a few gallons. Some were even filling large reserve tanks to keep in their trunks-a dangerous practice.

The topping game feeds on itself. The sight of long lines at every station makes you wonder if you, too, shouldn't jump in line and get your share before someone else drives off with it. Enough of this and the supplies are depleted; if, for example, every vehicle in the area started storing only five more gallons than usual in its tank, that would use up all the gasoline pumped in a normal period of, say, two days. Yet in and around Baltimore, motorists for some reason were calmer and lines were much shorter. Station-owners reported that much of their weekend business rolled in from the Washington area.

Driving habits are going to have to change, though not drastically; if each motorist in this area would cut the week's driving by 15 or so miles-and buy gasoline on a regular, no-panic schedule-that would accomplish more than any law or regional order could. Another obviously helpful response involves voluntary cooperation: the car pool. In the meantime, the local governments should do everything possible to improve the public transportation system. For a start, Metro should approve Sunday subway service at its meeting this week. The region's rapid-transit system is a vital-and pleasant-answer to the the motorists' problems at the filling station.