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Should Washington area drivers hear more traffic safety messages?


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I read with interest your column about the messages on the electronic boards [Dr. Gridlock, March 25]. After seeing many drivers without their lights on when wipers are needed, I always wonder why there aren’t public service announcements on our local news channels.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region. View Archive

It would be helpful if, maybe once a month or quarterly, some or all of these stations would just include this language in their regular broadcasts.

Howard Chernoff, Derwood

DG: I think that’s a good suggestion and will try to incorporate such safety messages in what I write in the Dr. Gridlock blog and Twitter messages, although I don’t want anyone reading my stuff while driving.

I will say that I hear television and radio traffic reporters issuing safety advice, but they have a lot of information to cram in during brief reports. (I often hear from commuters who ask why the problems on their routes aren’t mentioned more frequently. Something has to give.)

It frustrates some drivers that the Maryland State Highway Administration policy described in the column severely restricts the number of messages on the electronic signs that don’t relate specifically to real-time traffic conditions, such as roadwork or crash scenes ahead.

If the policy were different, and we could create a list of safety tips for display, what would they be, and how would you edit the message down so that it’s short and easy for a passing motorist to understand?

I find my readers are particularly concerned about the “wipers on=headlights on” safety message, but there are many helpful tips that drivers probably haven’t seen since they passed the written tests for their licenses. And, unlike the headlights warning, they apply all the time.

Some examples:

●Vehicles must stop for school buses when the buses’ red flashers are on, unless the buses are on the opposite side of a highway divided by a barrier or median strip.

● Put a stopping distance of at least two or three seconds between your vehicle and the one ahead.

●Continually scan the road ahead for at least as far as you can travel in 10 seconds.

●Avoid traveling in a truck’s blind spots.

●Signal all lane changes.

●Don’t weave from lane to lane.

●Don’t impede traffic by traveling too slowly. (But obey the speed limit.)

●Use #77 on your cellphone for non-emergency police assistance. Call 911 for emergencies.

I know you can think of others. What three messages would you put into a rotation on the signs? Bonus points if you can come up with a short, memorable phrase.

Missing a bus?

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Even with a magnifying glass, I cannot see the airport bus icon for the West Falls Church station on the new Metro map [Commuter page, March 25]. I do see the icon for the Greenbelt station.

Ted Hochstadt, Pimmit Hills

DG: There is a bus to Dulles International Airport with a stop at West Falls Church, but it’s the private bus service operated by Washington Flyer. Metro does not list private bus services on its map. Look instead for the new icons that mark the Metrobus 5A stops at L’Enfant Plaza and Rosslyn. The 5A doesn’t have a stop at West Falls Church. But in addition to the two Metro stations, it does serve the Tysons-Westpark Transit Station and the Herndon-Monroe Park and Ride.

Those heading for Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport will find the icon Hochstadt mentioned by the Greenbelt station, marking the stop for the B30 Metrobus.

The Washington Flyer coach service between West Falls Church and Dulles costs $18 round trip. The airport Metrobuses cost $12 round trip.

The merge surge

I was pretty sure that by merely mentioning the word “merge” in my column I would see a new wave of letters about the anxiety and frustration it provokes among drivers. Here’s one.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I was disturbed to learn in the March 25 column that drivers’ No. 1 peeve is “other drivers’ inability to figure out how to merge.”

I am no doubt one of those people who disturbs all those drivers. I find it difficult to merge, especially on a high-speed highway, because I am never sure whether the person I’d like to merge in front of (a) has no intention of letting me cut in, (b) is one of those drivers who is going 70 mph and expects me to merge at that speed (one of the most dangerous maneuvers I can imagine when the lane is filled with cars going at an equal rate) or (c) is, mercifully, a driver who has seen me and slows down a bit so that I can tell that he or she is prepared for me to enter that lane.

I find it scary that I share the road with drivers who are upset simply because my sense of merging safely is different from theirs. Those people have not learned a basic life lesson: to accept things that they cannot change.

Judy Cusick, Arlington County

DG: Some of the actions that seemed simple in the driver’s manual become difficult when theory meets real world in the crowded conditions on highways in the Washington area. I think it’s one of the most difficult things we routinely do as motorists — that and making left turns at intersections.

Drivers already in the highway travel lane should allow entering drivers to merge smoothly. That’s in everyone’s interest, and we won’t think less of you if you take your foot off the gas.

But the merging drivers should remember that they have a responsibility, too. If they can’t merge safely into the travel lanes, they must slow down till it’s safe to do so.



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