You're tooling along in your Buick Riviera on U.S. 29 in Howard County. In front of you is a Toyota 4-Runner. You reach a traffic signal at Scaggsville Road and pull alongside the Toyota.
You hear and feel thumping music from the vehicle, but all you see are black windows. No faces. No silhouettes inside the Toyota. Just black windows.
"You don't know what's in there," said Richard Egerton of Elkridge. "You get the feeling you're being stared at, but you don't know. I want to be able to see the person next to me. It's like they're trying to hide something."
Tinted windows have become quite popular these days -- not only on souped-up rods, but on clunkers and family vehicles.
An informal survey of Intrepid readers found these reasons for having tinted windows:
* They stop the vehicle's interior from fading.
* They hide equipment that salesmen fear might get stolen.
* They ease fear of skin disease from the sun.
* They look cool.
An informal survey of Intrepid readers found these reasons for not having tinted windows:
* They can conceal illegal activity.
* They obstruct the view of other motorists.
* They look tacky when the tint starts to crack or peel.
* They contribute to poor night visibility for the driver.
Sgt. Terry Fischer of the Maryland State Police automotive safety enforcement division said that windows in all vehicles in Maryland must have a light transmittancy of at least 35 percent and the standard light transmittancy for new cars is 70 percent.
Police don't issue violations with fines and points for windows that are too dark. But they give repair orders, to be met within 30 days.
"If the trooper literally can't see in that vehicle, it is more than likely going to be a violation," Sergeant Fischer said.
A few months ago, the Intrepid Roadster wrote of the increase we've seen in motorists with dark plastic covering their license plates, almost to the point that it's difficult to read their tag numbers (or letters).
But tinted windows seem to be much more popular.
"I don't see anything wrong with having clear windows that allow the sun to come into my car," Mr. Egerton said. "What's wrong with a little daylight and letting people see inside your car?"
In Anne Arundel County, on a stretch of Ritchie Highway (Route 2) less than a mile long in the Brooklyn Park neighborhood, many frequent travelers are having a hard time adjusting to the results of recent roadwork.
For the past year, road crews have worked to install left turn lanes and resurface and landscape the highway between 11th and Hammonds avenues, said Chuck Jackson of the State Highway Administration.
The purpose of the project, which was completed June 6, was to improve the traffic flow and channel left turn, Mr. Jackson said.
However, regular travelers note that the stretch has been reduced from three lanes to two, causing not only confusion but congestion.
"At each of these places, the right lane, against all logic, ends, while the other two must jog right," said Donald Laughery, who lives nearby on Second Avenue.
"The traffic in the right lane universally ignores the lane closure and continues on in spite of the traffic intruding from their left. Without question, there are going to be sideswipe accidents."
Mr. Laughery said traffic often extends out of the turns lanes and into Ritchie Highway, "making Ritchie Highway a single-lane road at these points."
Someone who lives in nearby Arundel Gardens said Ritchie Highway before and after the resurfaced stretch has three lanes, and there are no signs to inform motorists of the change in traffic pattern.
Mr. Jackson said the two lanes are sufficient to handle the traffic volume and similar construction is being planned from 11th Avenue north to the city line.
Seat belt use rises
Although it's nowhere close to the Intrepid One's idea of acceptable numbers, seat belt use in Baltimore is slowly beginning to rise.
According to a study by the Maryland Committee for Safety Belt Use, 54 percent of the city's motorists use seat belts, compared with 47 percent last year and 43 percent in 1993.
Barbara W. Beckett, the organization's executive director, attributes the increased use to more widespread knowledge of seat belts' importance and the involvement of churches, schools and community groups in awareness campaigns.
"This is something that we can make an immediate, positive change," Ms. Beckett said. She added that the organization hopes 65 percent of motorists in the city will use safety belts by next year.
Despite increased use of belts, the number of fatalities in the city rose during the span of the study.
In 1993, the city recorded 65 traffic fatalities and 62 fatal accidents. There were 68 traffic fatalities last year and 65 fatal accidents. This year, as of June 21, the accident death toll stood at 21.
KEEP IN TOUCH
Write to the Intrepid Commuter, c/o The Baltimore Sun, P.O. Box 1377, Baltimore 21278. Please include your name and telephone number so we can reach you if we have any questions.
Or use your Touch-Tone phone to call Sundial, The Baltimore Sun's telephone information service, at 783-1800, and enter Ext. 4305. Call 268-7736 in Anne Arundel County.