Rules of the Road

  • Aggressive Driving & Road Rage

    Aggressive driving is defined as two or more moving violations that are likely to endanger other persons or property, or any single intentional violation that requires a defensive reaction of another driver.

    Road rage is defined as an assault with a motor vehicle or other dangerous weapon by the operator or passenger(s) of another motor vehicle caused by an incident that occurred on a roadway.

    If you are the victim of aggressive driving that is currently in progress, call 911.

  • Alcoholic Beverage

    According to RCW 46.61.519 it is unlawful to drink any alcoholic beverage in a motor vehicle when the vehicle is on the highway. It is also unlawful to have in your possession any container containing alcohol if the container has been opened or the seal broken or the contents partially removed. The container of alcohol can be kept in the trunk or out of the reach of the driver and passengers in an SUV type vehicle, if the seal has been broken.

    This does not apply to the living quarters of a motor home or camper, or to any passengers in a for hire vehicle licensed under city, county or state law.

    For more information see RCW 46.61.519

  • Auto Insurance

    Washington State’s requires insurance. Please visit the Washington State Department of Licensing for detailed information.

    This law does not apply to the following:
    • Motorcycles
    • Motor Scooters and Mopeds
    • Antique or Collector Vehicles
    • Police or Government Owned Vehicles

    Remember, you are still liable for any damages or injuries that result from using these vehicles.

    For more information about the law, see RCW 46.30

    For more information from DOL, see

    For more information from the Insurance Commissioner, see

  • Construction Zones

    A roadway construction zone is an area where construction, repair, or maintenance work is being conducted by public employees or private contractors, on or adjacent to any public roadway. This also includes areas where workers are not present, but the driving conditions exist that would make it unsafe to drive at higher speeds.

    No person may drive a vehicle in a roadway construction zone at a speed greater than the posted speed limit. Anyone found to have committed an infraction relating to speed restrictions in a roadway construction zone shall be assessed a penalty equal to twice the normal penalty. This penalty shall not be waived, reduced or suspended.

    Anyone who drives in such a manner as to endanger any people or property, removes, evades or intentionally strikes a traffic safety or control devise is guilty of reckless endangerment of roadway workers. A violation of this is a gross misdemeanor.

    For more information see RCW 46.61.527

  • Distracted Driving

    No hand-held cell phone use

    Per RCW 46.61.672 & RCW 46.61.673:

    • Drivers may not use hand-held cell phones while they are driving, stopped in traffic, or at a stop light. This includes tablets, laptops, games, or other hand-held electronic devices.
    • Drivers may not watch video while they drive.
    • This does not apply if a driver is contacting emergency services.
    • Drivers can use hand-held devices when they are parked or out-of-the-flow of traffic.

    Hands-free use is allowed

    Hands-free use, such as through Bluetooth, is allowed as is a single touch to start a function. Start GPS or music before you drive.

    Dangerously distracted

    You can also get a $99 ticket for other types of distractions such as grooming, smoking, eating, or reading if the activity interferes with safe driving and you are pulled over for another traffic offense.

    Not included

    • Some things are not included in the law. Transit and emergency vehicle drivers are exempt. Drivers of commercial vehicles must follow federal laws.
    • Two-way radio, citizens band radio, or amateur radio equipment are not included in the law.


    The first ticket will cost at least $136. Get a ticket again within five years, and those tickets cost at least $234. Unlike current law, which exempts cell phone violations from being reported to insurance companies, all violations will be available to insurance companies.

  • Child Restraints

    According to RCW 46.61.687 all children under 16 years of age must be restrained when transported in a motor vehicle that is required to be equipped with a safety belt system as follows:

    • A child must be restrained by a child restraint system until the age of eight years old, unless the child is four feet nine inches or taller.
    • A child who is eight years or older, or four foot nine inches or taller can use the vehicles safety belt system if it is adjusted and fits appropriately.
    • Children under the age of 13 years old must be transported in the back seat of the vehicle when practical to do so.

    This does not apply to for hire vehicles, vehicles designed to transport sixteen or less passengers operated by auto transportation companies, shuttle services, and school buses.

    For more information see RCW 46.61.687

  • Children Left in Running Vehicles

    It is unlawful to leave a minor child or children under the age of 16 unattended in a vehicle while the motor is running, under RCW 46.64.685. A person in violation of this is guilty of a misdemeanor. The second violation of this law can result in the person’s driver’s license being revoked.

    For more information see RCW 46.61.685

  • Emergency Zone Law

    An emergency zone is defined as the adjacent lanes of the roadway, two hundred feet before and after a stationary authorized emergency vehicle that has either their emergency lights and/or sirens on. This includes tow trucks, police vehicles, fire vehicles, and other vehicles providing roadside assistance.

    When approaching an emergency zone on a highway with two or more lanes going in the same direction, if reasonable, yield the right of way by making a lane change, or moving away from the lane or shoulder. On a two lane highway, with traffic going both directions, yield to the oncoming traffic and with caution pass at a safe distance on the left. If changing lanes or moving over is unreasonable or not safe, reduce your speed. The fine for failure to reduce your speed or move over may be up to an infraction two times a speeding ticket.

    A person cannot drive a vehicle in an emergency zone faster than the posted speed limit. If a person is found in violation of speed restrictions in an emergency zone, the penalty is equal to twice the penalty for the speed infraction, as listed under RCW46.63.12. This penalty cannot be waived, reduced or suspended.

    A person who drives a vehicle in an emergency zone in such a manner as to endanger the emergency zone workers or property is guilty of reckless endangerment. This violation is a gross misdemeanor, which could be punished as such, plus a 60 day suspension of the person’s driver’s license.

    For more information see RCW 46.61.212

  • Emissions Inspection – Motor Vehicles

    Under the Washington Clean Air Act, motor vehicle emission inspections were established to reduce vehicle emissions in high emission contributing areas. Clark, King, Pierce, Snohomish and Spokane counties have been identified as these areas. If you live in one of those counties you may need to get an emissions test every two years, and will need to complete the test before you can renew your tabs. A list of these specific zip codes can be found here.

    Washington Department of Licensing (DOL) will mark your renewal notice, if you need to have your vehicle tested. If you are unsure if you need an emissions test, you can log into your online License express account through DOL here.

  • Dangerously Distracted Driving

    As part of the new distracted driving law of 2017, there is a section about “dangerously distracted driving”. This term is defined as a driver who engages in any activity not related to the actual operation of a motor vehicle, in a manner that interferes with the safe operation of such motor vehicle.

    Dangerously distracted driving is a secondary offense with a base penalty of $30.

  • Driving Under the Influence (DUI)

    A person is guilty of driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor, marijuana, or any drug if the person drives a vehicle within the state has:

    • An alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher as shown by analysis of the person’s breath or blood, or
    • The person has a THC concentration of 5.00 or higher as shown by analysis of the person’s blood, or
    • While the person is under the influence or affected by intoxicating liquor, marijuana, or any drug, or
    • While the person is under the combined influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor, marijuana, or any drug.

    For more information see RCW 46.61.502

  • High Occupancy Vehicle Lanes (HOV)

    Washington Department of Transportation, according to RCW 46.61.165, has the authorization to reserve any or all portions of any highway under their jurisdiction. The lanes can be restricted to two or more passengers in a vehicle.

    HOV lanes, when restricted, are available for motorcycles, private vehicles carrying no fewer than the specified number, public transportation vehicles, and private transportation vehicles that can carry eight or more passengers, regardless of how many passengers currently in the vehicle.

    For more information regarding the law, see RCW 46.61.165

  • Lemon Law

    Washington State enacted the Motor Vehicle Warranties Law, also known as the lemon law, to protect consumers against defective motor vehicles. This law allows the owner to request an arbitration hearing through the Attorney General’s office. The owner of the vehicle can request the arbitration at any time within 30 months of the vehicles original retail delivery date.

    Your vehicle may qualify as a lemon if it has one or more significant defects that have been subject to a “reasonable number of attempts” to diagnose or repair the problem(s) covered under the manufacturer’s warranty. The law only covers defects that “substantially impair” the use, value or safety of the motor vehicle.

    To read about the Lemon Law RCW 19.118

    The Attorney General’s office has an informative brochure here.

    To request arbitration, fill out the form located at this link

  • Lost Load

    Vehicles on any public highway must be constructed or loaded as to prevent any of its load from leaving the vehicle.

    All loads must be securely fastened to prevent the covering or the load from becoming loose, detached or in any manner a hazard to others on the roadway.

    All loads of dirt, sand and gravel must have at least six inches of freeboard and have a secure cover.

    Any glass or objects that have escaped from a vehicle must be cleaned up. All vehicles must be cleaned of any dirt, mud rocks or other debris from its body before entering the roadway.

    For more information see RCW 46.64.655.

  • Minimum Speed

    According to RCW 46.61.425, no person shall drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, except when reduces speed is necessary for safety.

    A person following a vehicle driving at less than the legal maximum speed limit on two lane highways with one lane for each direction, and desiring to pass the vehicle may exceed the speed limit only for such a distance as in necessary to complete the pass within a reasonable margin of safety.

    For more information regarding minimum speed limits see RCW 46.61.425.

  • Mopeds

    Mopeds may not operate on highways in Washington state unless the moped has been assigned a registration number and displays a permit according to RCW 46.16A.405(2). Removing muffling devices or pollution control is also not allowed.

    Mopeds may not be operated on the following:

    • Bicycle path
    • Trail
    • Bikeway
    • Equestrian trail
    • Hiking or recreational trail
    • Sidewalks
    • Pass/drive on the shoulder

    Motorized bicycles and foot scoots may have access to highways, trails, and bike lanes, to the same extent as bicycles.

    People operating electric personal assisted mobility devices (EMPADs) shall obey the speed limits, yield the right of way to pedestrians and human powered devices at all times. Besides these limitations, EMPADs have the rights and duties of a pedestrian.

    For more information regarding this law, see RCW 46.61.71.

  • Motorcycles

    According to Washington State law, a person operating a motorcycle can only ride on a permanent and regular seat attached to the bike. Passengers can only ride on the motorcycle if it is designed to carry more than one person. In addition, the motorcycle must have foot pegs and/or seatbelts for each passenger. For more information about riding on motorcycles, see RCW 46.61.610.

    Motorcycles are entitled to use of an entire lane, and no other vehicles shall be driven in a manner to deprive any motorcycle of the full use of the lane, except where two motorcycles are operated two abreast in a single lane. The operator of a motorcycle may not:

    • Overtake and pass a vehicle in the same lane as the vehicle being passed
    • Pass between lanes of traffic
    • Ride more than two abreast in one lane

    For more information about the operation of motorcycles on roadways see RCW 46.61.608.

  • Move Over

    Washington state law states that upon the approach of authorized emergency vehicles using audible and visual signals, or law enforcement using audible signals, every driver must yield the right of way, and move to the right hand edge or curb of the roadway, and remain there until the emergency vehicle has passed.

    Please be sure to clear of any intersection. A fine can run you $1,062.

    For more information see RCW 46.61.210.

  • Off-Road and All-Terrain Vehicles

    For all the laws and requirements for the operation of off-road and all-terrain vehicles see RCW 46.09. An off-road vehicle is considered to be any type of vehicle which is capable of driving on and off paved or gravel surfaces. It is generally characterized by having large tires with deep, open treads, a flexible suspension, or even caterpillar tracks.

    A person under 16 years of age may not operate an off-road vehicle without the direct supervision on someone 18 years of age or older who possesses a valid driver’s license, unless otherwise exempted by RCW 46.09.420.

    To operate an all-terrain vehicle on any roadway, the driver must have a valid driver’s license as per RCW 46.09.444  and the all-terrain vehicle must have an ORV registration or temporary ORV use permit with the current decals and tabs displayed as required by RCW 46.09.420.

    Unless otherwise described below, according to RCW 46.09.450 it is lawful to operate an off-road vehicle on:

    • Non-highway roads and parking areas designated off-road vehicle areas
    • Streets, roads or highways authorized by the local governing body
    • Any trail, non-highway road, or highway within the state while being used under the authority of an appropriate agency that engages in emergency management, search and rescue, or law enforcement
    • A city or town with less than 3,000 people may designate a roadway or highway suitable for off-road vehicles
    • The legislative body of a county may as well designate a roadway or highway suitable for off-road vehicles

    All-Terrain vehicles are defined as either a motorized, non-highway vehicle or a utility type vehicle. See the definitions below.

    A motorized, non-highway vehicle with:
    • Handlebars that are 50” or less in width
    • Seat height of at least 20”
    • Weights less than 1500 lbs
    • Four tires having a diameter of 30” or less

    A utility type vehicle designed for and capable of:

    • Travel over designated roads
    • Has four or more low-pressure tires of 20 psi or less
    • Width of 74” or less
    • Weighs 2000 lbs or less
    • Wheelbase of 110” or less
    • Has one of the following – Minimum width of 50”, Minimum weight of 900 lbs, Wheelbase over 61”

    For more information regarding all the requirements of all-terrain vehicles see RCW 46.09.457.

    A person may operate an all-terrain vehicle on any public roadway of this state with a speed limit of 35 mph or less, subject to the following:

    • Not on highways listed in RCW 47.17, except within the limits of a city or town, and the speed limit on is 35 mph or less
    • Unless on a non-highway road, trail or a public roadway with a speed limit of 35 mph or less, a person cannot cross a public roadway with a speed limit higher than 35 mph. This does not include non-highway roads, trails or ORV trails with a speed limit of 35 mph or less and occurs at an intersection of approximately 90 degrees.

    In counties: A person may not cross at an uncontrolled intersection of a public highway listed in RCW 47.17;  A person may not operate an all-terrain vehicle within the boundaries of a county with a population of 15,000 or more unless approved by a county ordinance. This excludes non-highways and trails. A county with a population less than 15,000 may designate roadways and highways as unsuitable for use by all-terrain vehicles.; Any public roadways authorized by a county designated as unsuitable must be listed on the county’s website.

    In cities: A person may not operate an all-terrain vehicle on public roadways within the boundaries of a city or town, unless the city or town has approved the operation of the all-terrain vehicles, not including non-highways and trails.; Any public roadways authorized by a city must be listed on the city or town’s website.

    • A violation of this law will result in a traffic infraction.
    • Local authorities may not establish requirements for registration of all-terrain vehicles.
    • A person may operate an all-terrain vehicle on any public roadway, trail, non-roadway or highway under the authority and direction of emergency management, search and rescue or law enforcement.

    It is unlawful to operate an off-road vehicle on a private road, if the owner has not authorized the use of off-road vehicles. There are no provisions that allow trespassing on private property under the RCW.

    For more information regarding the licensing of off-road motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles see the Department of Licensing’s website.

  • Racing Vehicles and Reckless Driving

    No person or persons may race vehicle(s) on any public highway in Washington State. Any person who willfully instigates racing shall be guilty of racing, which shall constitute reckless driving, even if speeds do not exceed the maximum speed limit. For more information see RCW 46.61.530.

  • Refusal to Cooperate with Officers

    In Washington State it is unlawful to not cooperate with police officers. When stopped by a police office, you must do or provide the following:

    • You must stop when signaled by a police officer
    • Provide your name and address
    • Provide the name and address of the owner of the vehicle
    • Provide the registration of the vehicle, driver’s license and insurance
    • You cannot give a false name or address

    For more information regarding this law see RCW 46.61.020.

  • Seatbelt Requirements and Penalties

    Every vehicle must have a safety restraint that meets or exceeds the standards for the year the vehicle was built.

    • Vehicles manufactured after January 1, 1965 must have at least two lap-type seatbelts for use in the front seat.
    • Vehicles manufactured after January 1, 1968 shall be equipped with a lap-type safety belt assembly for each permanent passenger seating position.
    • Vehicles manufactured after January 1, 1968 shall be equipped with at least two shoulder harness-type safety belt assemblies for use in the front seating positions.

    For more information about seatbelt requirements see RCW 46.37.510

    For a list of required vehicles and exempted vehicles see RCW 46.61.688

    For the Code of Federal Regulations regarding seat belt assemblies see CFR 571.209

    For the Code of Federal Regulations regarding seat belt assembly anchorages see CFR 571.210

  • Speed Traps

    According to Washington state law, there are three types of “speed traps” permitted, including measured courses, speed measuring devices and timing from aircraft.

    A speed trap is defined as a particular section of or distance on any public highway, the length of which has been or is measured off or otherwise designated or determined, and the limits of which are within the vision of any officer or officers who calculate the speed of a vehicle passing through such speed trap by using the lapsed time during which such vehicle travels between the entrance and exit of such speed trap.

    For more information see RCW 46.61.470.

  • Speeding and Maximum Speed Limits

    No one shall drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions, and having regard to the actual and potential hazards that exist. Speed should be controlled as to avoid colliding with any person and vehicle on or entering the highway.

  • Traction Tires

    From passenger cars and pickups or large commercial trucks or buses, we answer the most common questions about traction devices here. Read Washington’s standards (Chapter 204-24 WAC) for tire chains, studded tires, and their use and approval.

    What qualifies as a traction tire? Do mud and snow tires?
    Tires labeled as all-season, all-weather, snow tire or studded (must be labeled M&S or with the mountain/snowflake symbol on the sidewall) qualify so long as they meet the standards set in WAC 204-24-040 Traction Devices.

    When can I use studded tires?
    Studded tires are approved for use from November 1 to March 31. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) determines additional periods in which they can be used. Studded tires are not allowed on vehicles over 10,000 pounds. For more information see WSDOT’s studded tire page.

    I drive a vehicle with studded tires. When DOT requires chains to be put on, do I need them with studded tires?
    Yes. Studded tires are not a substitute for chains.

    I have an all-wheel or four-wheel drive vehicle. When “Chains Required” signs are posted, do I have to use chains?
    Not necessarily.  All four-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicles with a GVWR less than 10,000 pounds are exempt from chain requirements when all wheels are in gear and are equipped with approved traction devices, provided that tire chains for at least one set of drive tires are carried in the vehicle.  WAC 204–24–050

    The following may help to explain the basics to determine when and what types of traction devices are required:
    • All vehicles should use approved traction tires.
    • Approved traction tires must have at least ⅛ inch of tread and be labeled M+S, all season, or have a mountain/snowflake symbol.
    • Oversize loads are prohibited.

    All vehicles must be equipped with traction tires.
    • If you install chains or approved devices, any tire becomes a traction tire.
    • Any vehicle with a gross weight of 10,000 pounds must install chains. This includes large passenger trucks and SUV’s.
    • If your truck and whatever it’s hauling weighs more than 10,000 pounds, you must install chains even if it is equipped with all- or four-wheel drive.

    This means all vehicles must install approved chains or traction devices.

    You do not have to put the chains on if your all-wheel or four- wheel drive vehicle is less than 10,000 lbs. GVWR and all four wheels are in gear and are equipped with approved traction tires engaged and tire chains for at least one set of drive tires are carried in the vehicle..

    Any vehicle with a gross weight of 10,000 pounds must install chains. This includes large passenger trucks and SUV’s.

    In extreme weather conditions, the WSDOT may require every vehicle to install chains, whether you have all wheel drive or not.

    This is why all vehicles must still carry chains or approved traction tires on certain highways or mountain passes from November 1 to April 1.

    The advisory term “chains” encompasses both traditional tire chains and approved alternative traction devices such as snow socks, Polaire Grips, Grip Tex, etc.

    Your vehicle’s manual may state that tire chains cannot be installed on the vehicle due to a clearance issue. You will need to find a suitable alternative traction device that meets the requirements set forth in WAC 204-24-050. We recommend you contact your dealership to ascertain what traction devices will mount on our vehicle tires properly.

    Studded tires DO NOT meet chain requirements. You must still carry chains in winter conditions.

    I can’t use regular cable chains because there’s not enough clearance in the wheel well. What other approved traction devices can I use?
    It is recommended the vehicle consult their owner’s manual to see what the manufacturer suggests be used as a traction device for their vehicle. The following alternative traction devices are certified by their manufacturer as meeting or exceeding chain requirements in accordance with WAC 204-24-035 which are therefore considered approved for use when “Chains Required”signs are posted in Washington State provided that the product meets the requirements for use set forward by the manufacturer (see the Alternative Traction Devices Chart for additional detail):

    (Click to enlarge)

    Where can I find information on the chain requirements for vehicles and combinations over 10,000 pounds GVW?
    The State Patrol’s Commercial Vehicle Division (CVD) has a Chaining Requirements brochure that illustrates chaining 2-4, 5, and 6 or more axles. It is available at all Washington State Patrol offices and weigh stations. For additional information, see the Commercial Vehicle Division.

    You may also call the Washington State Patrol Equipment and Standards Section in Olympia at (360) 596-4017 or send your inquiries via e-mail to

  • Trailers – Riding in Trailers or Towed Vehicles

    No person shall ride in a trailer or vehicle that is being towed, unless the person is in a steering trailer designed to steer from the rear of the towed trailer. A tow truck driver may allow passengers in a vehicle that is carried on the deck of a flatbed tow truck when the following is met:

    • The number of people transported exceeds the capacity of the tow truck, or the person has disabilities that does not allow the person to enter the tow truck
    • Any passengers under the age of 16 has an adult riding in the same vehicle
    • There is a way to immediately communicate with the two truck driver, in case of an emergency
    • All passengers comply with RCW 46.61.687 and 46.61.688

  • Towing and Impoundment

    If a vehicle is left in the right-of-way on a highway, a law enforcement officer shall attach a readily visible notification sticker that has the date and time the sticker was attached, the officers identity, a statement that if vehicle is not removed. Within 24 hours it may be towed and stored at the owner’s expense, and if the vehicle is not redeemed as defined by RCW 46.55.120 the registered owner will have committed the traffic infraction of littering and abandoning their vehicle.

    An officer may impound a vehicle in the following situations:
    • A driver is arrested for violation of driving on an invalid, suspended or revoked license
    • A vehicle is found unattended on a highway where it can be considered an obstruction to traffic or jeopardized public safety
    • A vehicle is left unattended at the scene of a collision, or if the driver of the vehicle is left physically or mentally incapable of moving their vehicle
    • When a driver of a vehicle is arrested and taken into custody
    • When an officer discovers a vehicle is a stolen vehicle
    • When a vehicle does not have specialty plates, a placard or decal indicating it is used to transport people with disabilities and is parked in a space designated for people with disabilities.
    • If a driver does not have a valid or specially endorsed driver’s license, or has been expired for 90 days or more
    • If a vehicle is parked in a specially marked zone for at least 24 hours
    • If a vehicle has an expired registration more than 45 days and is parked on a public street

    If a driver is arrested for driving on an invalid license and the vehicle is a farm transport vehicle, the officer shall attempt to contact the owner of the vehicle for removal.

    If a driver is arrested for driving under the influence, or was in physical control of the vehicle and under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, the vehicle must be impounded. The officer directing that vehicle be impounded has waited up to 30 minutes after contacting dispatch requesting the tow or has been called to another incident or must leave because of limited resources, may leave the secured vehicle on the side of the roadway and the agency will not be held liable for any damages or theft of the vehicle or the contents. For all the laws regarding this, refer to RCW 46.55.360.

    For information regarding all the laws for towing and impounding see RCW 46.55.

  • Vehicle Ownership and Registration

    A person shall not operate a vehicle in this state with a registration that does not have the owners listed exactly as it appears on the certificate of title.

    For all the laws regarding the certificates of title and registration, vehicle sales and transfers, registering specific vehicles such as campers, custom vehicles, kits, manufactured homes and street rods, and other issues about serial numbers, see RCW 46.12.

  • Vehicle Licenses

    It is unlawful for a person to operate a vehicle in Washington State on the roadway without having a front and back license plate displayed on their vehicle, if it is registered in Washington State. Failure to register a vehicle to Washington State before operation on the roadway will result in a fine of $1,134 on top of the taxes and fees due. Failure to renew an expired registration is a traffic infraction. It is a gross misdemeanor for a resident to register a vehicle in another state to evade the payment of taxes and licensing fees.

    See our Equipment Standards page for information about front license plate exemptions.

    For more information about vehicle licensing see RCW 46.16.

  • Vehicle Lighting and Other Equipment

    For information regarding the equipment standards (see link) or RCW 46.37.

  • Vehicle Size

    Information regarding the maximum heights, lengths and weight of vehicles, special permits and enforcement can be found in RCW 46.44.

    All other rules of the road topics can be found in RCW 46.