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AGO 1955 No. 74 - May 09, 1955
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Don Eastvold | 1953-1956 | Attorney General of Washington

MOTOR VEHICLES ‑- LICENSING AND OPERATION ‑- CARS BELONGING TO A FOREIGN CORPORATION NOT MAINTAINING PLACE OF BUSINESS IN THIS STATE ‑- DEMONSTRATOR WITHOUT LICENSE PLATES ‑- RESIDENT OPERATING CAR LICENSED IN A FOREIGN STATE

A motor vehicle operated on the public highways of this state must have in full force and effect a proper Washington vehicle license and displayed thereon, unless exempted by some statutory provision.

An Illinois corporation which does not own, maintain or operate a place of business in this state, but in the state of Idaho where a car furnished its salesman is properly licensed, is exempt under the statute and by reciprocity.

It is unlawful for any person to operate a dealer's demonstrator on the public highways which does not have displayed upon it a valid vehicle license.

A resident of this state is not entitled to claim the exemption granted to a non-resident [[nonresident]]owner to operate a motor vehicle licensed in the state of the owner's residence.

                                                                  - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                                    May 9, 1955

Honorable Hugh H. Evans
Prosecuting Attorney
Spokane County
Court House
Spokane, Washington                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 55-57 No. 74


Attention:  !ttMr. William J. Grant

            Deputy Prosecuting Attorney

Dear Sir:

            In your letter of April 11, 1955, previously acknowledged, you ask the following questions:

            (1) Is an Illinois Corporation which operates a local office in Idaho where a  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] car is licensed and furnished to its salesmen who reside in Spokane required to license the car in Washington?

            (2) Is a prospective customer who takes a new car out on a trial run which, unknown to him, has no license plates, liable to prosecution for failure to display license plates as required by RCW 46.16.010?

            (3) Is a Washington resident, who purchases a new car in Michigan and registers and licenses it to relatives in Michigan required to license the car in Washington as required by RCW 46.16.010 or does the non-resident exemption statute, RCW 46.16.030, apply?

            Our conclusions are as follows:

            (1) No.

(2) Yes.

(3) Licensing in Washington is required.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            As a general principle, under RCW 46.16.010 every vehicle operated on the public highways of this state must have in full force and effect a proper Washington vehicle license and displayed thereon, unless exempted by some statutory provision.

            Among the exemptions are certain farm implements and trailers transporting farm implements temporarily on the highway in going from farm to farm (RCW 46.16.010; Proviso); vehicles of the United States and foreign governments (RCW 46.16.020), and those granted to nonresidents on the basis of reciprocity agreements between this state and the state in which the vehicle is licensed (RCW 46.16.030).

            The application of these rules is determinative of your questions.

            (1) Assuming that the Illinois corporation does not own, maintain or operate a place of business in this state, and that the use of the car from the Idaho office in the state of Washington is incident to the primary operation in Idaho, your question is answered in the negative.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            The operation falls within exemptions to the general principle above stated in two instances.

            First, RCW 46.16.030 specifically provides that

            "Foreign corporations owning, maintaining, or operating places of business in this state and using vehicles in connection with such places of business shall comply with the provisions relating to the licensing of vehicles in so far as vehicles used in connection with such places of business are concerned."

            Since the Illinois corporation does not own, maintain or operate a place of business in this state, but in the state of Idaho, it would not be governed by either the general rules (RCW 46.16.010) or the provision above quoted.

            Second, by reciprocity agreement with the state of Idaho salesmen operating automobiles bearing a valid registration and plate issued by that state are permitted to operate in this state, since the same privilege is accorded salesmen from this state operating automobiles in Idaho, bearing a valid registration and plate issued by this state.

            (2) We answer your second question in the affirmative.

            We again refer to the general rule as we have hereinbefore announced it.  The automobile did not have displayed upon it a valid vehicle license.  The lack of intent to violate the law does not excuse the infraction of a police regulation.  InState v. Ferry Line Auto Bus Company, 99 Wash. 64, the operator, as well as the owner, was held liable for operating an auto stage without proper license.

            RCW 46.16.010 provides that

            "It shall be unlawful for a person to operate any vehicle over and along a public highway of this state without first having obtained and having in full force and effect a current and proper vehicle license and display vehicle license number plates therefor as by this chapter provided:  * * *"

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            It is to be noted that in this section, as well as in virtually every section of the motor vehicle code, "knowingly" is not an element of the violation.  The mere performance of the unlawful act constitutes the violation.

            We are willing to concede that the factual case which you cite would seem to be straining the legal application of the rule to its extreme.  The matter of enforcement, or the selection of a different charge, if it were felt one were predicated, is not presented in your question.  However, we would suggest a consideration of RCW 46.56.200 or 46.56.210 and RCW 46.70.090 with the general penalty applicable (RCW 46.64.050) as probably being more directly applicable to the person responsible for the violation.

            (3) We answer the first part of your third question in the affirmative.

            We are dealing here with a Washington resident operating in this state a motor vehicle registered and licensed in Michigan.  Unless some specific exemption applies, the vehicle must be licensed in Washington.  The only possible exemption is that made for nonresidents by RCW 46.16.030 which, in so far as herein pertinent applies.

            "* * * to any vehicles owned by nonresidents of this state if the owner thereof has complied with the law requiring the licensing of vehicles in the names of the owners thereof in force in the state * * * of his residence * * * but the provisions of this section shall be operative as to a vehicle owned by a non-resident [[nonresident]]of this state only to the extent that under the laws of the state * * * of his residence, like exemptions and privileges are granted to vehicles duly licensed under the laws and owned by residents of this state.  * * *" (Emphasis supplied)

            The terms "owner" and "nonresident" are given statutory definitions (RCW 46.04.380 and 46.04.360).

            RCW 46.04.360 provides that

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            "'Nonresident' means any person whose residence is outside this state and who is temporarily sojourning within this state."

            That language is clearly inapplicable to a Washington resident.  Nor is there anything to indicate that a Michigan resident who may be the registered owner of the vehicle is in Washington.  We conclude that the nonresident provision does not cover this case; and that unless a Washington license for the vehicle is obtained its operation in this state is unlawful.

            Even assuming that the Michigan resident involved might be temporarily sojourning in Washington, the vehicle could not be operated here without licensing, under the terms of RCW 46.16.030 and our reciprocal agreement with the state of Michigan for more than ninety days.

            We trust that the foregoing analysis will be helpful to you.

Very truly yours,

DON EASTVOLD
Attorney General


MITCHELL DOUMIT
Assistant Attorney General

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