Cars sit in traffic along Florida Avenue in the District’s Shaw neighborhood. For safety and courtesy’s sake drivers should refrain from needless honking. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
Columnist

If a highway department let you program a driving tip into one of those overhead message boards, what would you want to tell your fellow motorists?

These travelers have some suggestions to share about courtesy and safety.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Washington used to pride itself on not being New York, on offering Southern hospitality and welcoming visitors. But there has been an epidemic of honking when it won’t help. People honk when you wait for pedestrians to cross the street (Are you supposed to run over them?), when traffic is gridlocked, when you are a nanosecond late as the light changes, or just at random times for no apparent reason.

I had printed up some “Stop honking, you are not in New York” bumper stickers, but not enough. Can you take the lead in getting people (especially taxis) to stop honking unless it is an emergency?

We are all going as quickly as we can; honking doesn’t help. We need to curb this epidemic before it gets worse. We have enough noise around here.

Shirley Buzzard, the District

DG: I’m from New York City, and had a New York driver’s license for more than a decade. Never heard as much car honking there as I have in the land of Southern hospitality.

I looked up what the District’s Driving Manual says about use of the horn and found it made a lot of sense for all drivers, particularly this tip: “The horn is not intended to take the place of brakes.”

But the most disconcerting use of the car horn around here is to urge the driver ahead to move into the path of a pedestrian. This suggests that the driver behind the stopped car is utterly lacking in situational awareness and must simply be staring at the brake lights ahead.

Here’s another tip from the D.C. manual that I find particularly useful in an urban environment, where we need to share the road in relatively tight spaces: “Do not use your horn to alert a cyclist of your approach in a non-emergency situation. A loud horn can cause a cyclist to lose control.”

Driving vs. crashing

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Your column in the May 5 Washington Post dwelt almost entirely on the importance of seat-belt use, as though the failure to do so is the main cause of traffic fatalities and injuries. Only later in the article did you give passing mention to safe driving habits (e.g., “slow down and don’t drive aggressively . . .”), even though they are clearly the best way to minimize fatalities.

By emphasizing seat belt use as the solution to the mayhem on our streets, you’ve fallen into the trap of focusing on safe crashing rather than safe driving. Don’t you have your priorities backward?

Ralph Blessing, the District

DG: For those of you who don’t memorize my columns, I noted in this one that when I ask experts in traffic safety to give me tips that I can share with readers, they almost always start with this one: Wear your seat belt.

That’s always gotten my attention. They focus on it partly because it’s such a simple thing drivers can do to protect themselves. They don’t say it because they think it’s the only thing drivers should do.

The seat-belt message happens to be timely now, because state police in Maryland and Virginia have been conducting “Click it or Ticket” campaigns.

“The most effective way to save your life — and the lives of others — is to wear your seat belt,” Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn said in announcing that state’s participation in the effort.

Maryland safety officials cite several alarming statistics: About 120 people killed in crashes each year in the state were not wearing their seat belts. And over the past five years, 59 percent of all back-seat passengers who died in Maryland weren’t buckled up.

A seat belt does not allow the user to defy the laws of nature, and safety officials highlight what else drivers do wrong, including impaired driving, speeding and distracted driving.

In his terrific book, “Traffic,” Tom Vanderbilt pointed out that these bad behaviors tend to come in clusters. “It is not simply that drivers are less likely to survive a severe crash when not wearing seat belts,” he wrote, noting research suggesting that “the most severe crashes happen to those not wearing their belts.”

Safe behaviors also tend to cluster.

Of his own driving habits, Vanderbilt said: “I have always considered the act of wearing my seat belt not so much an incentive to drive more riskily as a grim reminder of my own mortality.”