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AGO 1952 No. 328 - June 17, 1952
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington


A city ordinance prohibiting holders of temporary instruction permits operating in full compliance with the restrictions provided for driving on any public highway or streets within the city limits conflicts with state law and is of no effect.

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                                                                   June 17, 1952

Honorable James A. Pryde
Washington State Patrol
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 328

Dear Sir:

            We acknowledge receipt of your request for an opinion of this office of May 21, 1952, in which you ask the following question:

            "Can a person learning to drive a motor vehicle, be legally arrested and prosecuted for driving on certain streets in the city of Seattle, which would be in violation of their city ordinance, when such person holds a valid instruction permit and has a licensed operator in the seat beside him, with no other person in the car?"

            Our conclusion is:

            A city ordinance prohibiting holders of temporary instruction permits operating in full compliance with the restrictions provided for driving on any public highway or street within the city limits conflicts with state law and is of no effect.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]


            The statute authorizing a person to drive a motor vehicle on the highways of the state for a limited period with a temporary instruction permit is contained in RCW 46.20.110.  This act is derived from section 47, chapter 188, Laws of 1937, as amended, and is quoted as follows:

            "The director upon receiving from any person over the age of sixteen years an application for a temporary instruction permit may issue such a permit entitling the applicant, while having the permit in his immediate possession, to operate a motor vehicle upon thepublic highways for a period of sixty days when accompanied by a licensed vehicle operator who is actually occupying a seat beside the operator and there is no other person in the vehicle.  Temporary instruction permits shall be issued upon payment of a fee of fifty cents in the manner provided for the payment of fees for vehicle operator licenses."

            Without such restricted permit said person could not operate a vehicle on our public highways at all.  Were it not for the city ordinance you mentioned it would follow that one having such permit and operating a vehicle clearly within all of its restrictions may operate a vehicle on any street open to public vehicular traffic in the city of Seattle, since such privilege has been granted by the state for the obvious reason of allowing persons otherwise competent to learn to operate a vehicle under the tutelage of a licensed operator.

            Under RCW 46.08.010 all licensing of vehicle operators is preempted in the state and no division of the state shall require or issue any such licenses.  The state has definitely declared its precedence in such licensing, not only in the above cited section, but also in RCW 46.08.020.

            A public highway is defined in RCW 46.04.430 as follows:

            "'Public highway' includes every way, land, road, street, boulevard, and every way or place in the state open as a matter of right to public vehicular travel both inside and outside the limits of cities and towns."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            It would, therefore, follow that as the sovereign has retained all licensing of the operation of motor vehicles and has determined that all streets in cities as well as in rural areas, are public highways and has provided for issuing a permit to operate a motor vehicle for persons otherwise qualified under a temporary instruction permit, any ordinance of a division of a sovereign, such as the city of Seattle, prohibiting the use of any of the public highway system including any streets, would be in conflict with the state law and of no effect.  Such appears to be the case in the instance you mention since the ordinance in question is stated to restrict such persons from certain streets open to public vehicular traffic.  Said persons are entitled to use these ways under permits from the state, and the city ordinance, rather than state law, must give way.

            It may be acknowledged that such persons may secure the necessary training without using any and all public highways and this may well be so, but it does not affect the wording of the law which entitled him to operate a motor vehicle on all public highways under highly restrictive conditions for a limited period of time, and no divisions of the state have been authorized further to restrict such operation.

            It could also be that, had the state not preempted entirely such licensing for operation of a vehicle on all public ways, a city could unduly hamper the training of such persons to drive.  Such city may regulate speed and make other regulations as to the operation on its streets but may not prohibit their use by such trainee drivers and, therefore, may not arrest any such person for violating the ordinance mentioned if his operation of said vehicle is entirely within the restrictions of his temporary permit and is driving otherwise lawfully.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General

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