Leaving a gap between cars leaves room for safety on road

IF YOU want wide-open spaces, move to Montana, I always say. I drive by these words as well - at least when it comes to "snugging" up to cars at intersections.

Which brings me to last week's question by Ann Henry, who wondered why drivers leave a gap of four or five car-lengths at traffic lights. She clearly favors drivers squeezing some of those wide-open spaces, especially when vehicles are stacked in a limited turn lane.


Some of you agree with Ms. Henry, such as Joan Lancos, who draws upon her observations of drivers stopped at intersections. "I ran for public office two years ago and spent a lot of time waving signs on street corners. I became convinced that people do not know where the front of their car is located and are completely oblivious to those around them," she said. "Often these folks are busy talking on a cell phone or adjusting the radio, too busy to pay attention to the vehicles around them. One or two car lengths between vehicles is common. It is particularly galling when folks don't pull up in a turn lane so all the cars waiting to turn can fit in the stacking lane. The vehicles that don't fit then block the thru lanes which causes even more traffic problems."

Not one to just complain, Ms. Lancos has a strategy to help close gaps. "When drivers in front of me leave a large space in front of them, I pull up very close behind them. That seems to invade their personal space and they move up to allow a more comfortable distance between us," Lancos said. "That effectively closes the gap with the car in front of them. I don't recommend this on a hill or behind a vehicle that likely has a standard transmission and may drift backward."


Gail May takes a different approach: "I was taught that when there is a car length or two between vehicles, they can start up and go at the same time and that it is faster than having each car start individually after the car in front has pulled away."

If only it truly worked this way. However, Ms. May did raise a safety issue worth considering: "It seems a little safer to give yourself some room around your car when stopped instead of being boxed in," she said.

In this era of carjackings, these are words of wisdom. The closer you are to the vehicle in front of you, the less maneuvering room you have if you need to make a fast getaway.

Rainy-day headlights

Rosemarie Felton sent an e-mail recently to remind us of an often-ignored law requiring that headlights be used during daytime storms.

"I was coming back from Frederick (on Interstate 70 eastbound) during [a] downpour, and I was amazed at how many cars, trucks, etc., were running without headlights," she wrote. "Since the rain was quite heavy and there was some fog near the Frederick area, it would have been helpful to visually see more through the rain. Don't people know it's a law now to turn on headlights when the windshield wipers are working?"

Here is the law: If your windshield wipers are on, your headlights should be on also. I think Maryland should post signs to remind motorists of this safety-oriented regulation.



JoAnn Maxfield, spokeswoman for the Howard County Department of Public Works, contacted me to clarify information included in last week's column.

"The signs in Columbia [for town-maintained streets] are blue," I wrote in the column. Maxfield pointed out that both the signs and streets are maintained by the county. "The signs are blue because they are located in the city of Columbia," she said.


Through June 30, look for daytime, nonrush hour lane closures on Interstate 95 northbound in Howard County to repair the bridge deck.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia, 21044. Please include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.