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AGO 1971 No. 20 - July 06, 1971
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

MOTOR VEHICLES ‑- TRAFFIC VIOLATIONS ‑- RECIPROCITY ‑- BRITISH COLUMBIA ‑- PLACEMENT ONWASHINGTONRESIDENT'S TRAFFIC RECORD

The department of motor vehicles may, upon receipt of a report of a British Columbia traffic violation from the proper authorities, place such report on aWashingtonresident's traffic record.

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

                                                                     July 6, 1971

Honorable R. FrankAtwood
State Senator, 42nd District
220 Bellingham National Bank Building
Bellingham,
 Washington 98225

                                                                                                                 Cite as:  AGO 1971 No. 20

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged, you have requested an opinion of this office on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            May the department of motor vehicles, upon receipt of a report of a British Columbiatraffic violation from the proper authorities, place such report on aWashingtonresident's traffic record?

            We answer this question in the affirmative as set forth in our analysis below.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            For a good many years, we are informed that the British Columbiaequivalent to theWashingtonstate department of motor vehicles has been forwarding traffic violation reports to the department in cases whereWashingtonresidents have been convicted of violations of the motor vehicle laws ofBritish Columbia.  Likewise, the department of motor vehicles has been reciprocating by forwarding violation reports onBritish Columbiadrivers when those persons are convicted of a violation of the motor vehicle laws of this state.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            When the report from British Columbiareflects a violation of the Provincial motor vehicle code which would require suspension or revocation of the operator's license of aWashingtonresident if the violation had occurred within the state ofWashington, the department, acting under the authority of RCW 46.20.291, suspends the license of theWashingtonresident.  That section reads, in pertinent part:

            "(1) The department is hereby authorized to suspend the license of a driver upon a showing by its records or other sufficient evidence that the licensee:

            "(a) Has committed an offense for which mandatory revocation or suspension of license is provided by law;"

            The report of conviction thus becomes part of the permanent driving record required to be kept by the director in such cases.  Furthermore, in those instances where the conviction so reported does not constitute an offense for which a mandatory revocation or suspension would be required under Washington law, the department simply posts it to the driving record of the Washington resident for future reference.  It is the practice of entering such convictions on the driving record of an individual to which your question is directed.

            We conclude that the department at least has the authority to keep such records; moreover, it is further arguable that it has the duty to do so as well.

            At the outset, we should note that the British Columbia-Washington relationship is not governed by the terms of the driver license compact, chapter 46.21 RCW, which is, by its terms, limited to relations between the fifty states, the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.  It is noteworthy that under that compact, certain convictions are to be treated by the department precisely as if they occurred within this state.  In other words, a conviction in any state of the United States, the District of Columbia or the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico which, if it had occurred in Washington, would require a suspension or revocation here, will result in a mandatory suspension or revocation in this state.  See, RCW 46.41.010, Article IV.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            However, since British Columbia is not a party to this compact, it is necessary to look elsewhere in the motor vehicle code to determine the extent of the department's powers and duties in this area.  In adopting chapter 46.20 RCW (chapter 121, Laws of 1965, Ex. Sess.), the legislature also adopted a rule of construction to be used in interpreting sections of that chapter.  That rule, contained in § 1, is as follows:

            ". . . It is intended that this 1965 amendatory act be liberally construed to effectuate the purpose of improving the safety of our highways through driver licensing procedures within the framework of the traditional freedoms to which every motorist is entitled."

            One does not have to read very far into chapter 121 to discern that when the legislature spoke therein of licensing procedures, it not only referred to the process by which one obtains a license, but also to the procedures and laws under which the department of motor vehicles is to restrict, suspend or revoke such license.  Significant in this regard is the language of RCW 46.20.291, which forms the basis for a major portion of the discretionary suspensions of the department.  Insofar as it is here pertinent that language is as follows:

            "(1) The department is hereby authorized to suspend the license of a driver upon a showing by its records or other sufficient evidence that the licensee:

            ". . .

            "(c) Has been convicted with such frequency of offenses against traffic regulations governing the movement of vehicles as to indicate a disrespect for traffic laws and a disregard for the safety of other persons on the highways;"

            In implementation of this provision the director in 1968 adopted a "point system" under which a certain number of points are assessed for certain moving violations.  See,  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] WAC 308-104-020.  Under a similar point system regulation, the director of motor vehicles of the District of Columbia was held by a court to be authorized to assign points for out-of-state convictions.  See, Council v. Director of Motor Vehicles, Dist. of Columbia, 159 A.2d 874 (1960).

            While no cases have been found dealing expressly with the posting of British Columbia or other Canadian convictions to the driving record of a United States resident, it is noteworthy that the courts of the state of New York have upheld the suspension of a driver's license of a New York resident on the basis of his conviction of a traffic offense in the Province of Ontario.  See, La Victoire v. Kelly, 5 A.D.2d 548 [[5 App.Div.2d 548]], 173 N.Y.S.2d 543 (1958), and Schwanke v. Hults, 17 A.D.2d 898 [[17 App.Div.2d 898]], 233 N.Y.S.2d 6 (1962).  All of which brings us back to your specific question of whether the department of motor vehicles, upon receipt of a report of a British Columbia traffic violation from the proper authorities, can place such report on a Washington resident's traffic record.

            There are two statutes dealing with the director's duty to maintain driver's records.  The first is RCW 46.20.171 (2), which reads:

            "The department shall also maintain a record for every licensed driver which shall include all accident reports and abstracts of court records of convictions received by it under the laws of this state and in connection therewith maintain convenient records in order that an individual record of each licensee showing the convictions of such licensee, the traffic accidents in which he has been involved and any prior actions taken by the department in connection with his driving record shall be readily ascertainable for the consideration of the department."

            Secondly, describes these records and their uses in somewhat more detail is RCW 46.52.120, which reads as follows:

            "It shall be the duty of the director to keep a case record on every motor  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] vehicle driver licensed under the laws of this state, together with information on each, showing all the convictions certified by the courts and an index cross reference record of each accident reported relating to such individuals with a brief statement of the cause of such accident, which index cross reference record shall be furnished to the director by the chief of the Washington state patrol, with reference to each driver involved in the reported accidents.  Such records shall be for the confidential use of the director and the chief of the Washington state patrol and for such police officers or other cognizant public officials as may be designated by law.  Such case records shall not be offered as evidence in any court except in case appeal is taken from the order of director, suspending, revoking, canceling, or refusing vehicle driver's license.  It shall be the duty of the director to tabulate and analyze vehicle driver's case records and to suspend, revoke, cancel, or refuse any vehicle driver's license to any person when it is deemed from facts contained in the case record of such person that it is for the best interest of public safety that such person be denied the privilege of operating a motor vehicle.  Whenever the director may order the vehicle driver's license of any such person suspended, revoked, or canceled, or shall refuse the issuance of vehicle driver's license, such suspension, revocation, cancellation, or refusal shall be final and effective unless appeal from the decision of the director shall be taken as provided by law."

            A few points should be noted about these two statutes:

            (1) The record thus required to be maintained is not a public record.  On the contrary, the record is specifically made for the confidential use of the director of  [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] the department of motor vehicles, the chief of the Washington state patrol and certain other public officials.  It is not the property of the individual in whose name it is kept, although a copy of it is available to him (RCW 46.29.050);

            (2) The purpose of the maintenance of such a record is spelled out in no uncertain terms as it relates to the duty of the director; and

            (3) It must consist of "all the convictions certified by the courts," together with all accident reports.

            It is, of course, arguable that neither the language of RCW 46.20.171 ("abstracts of court records of convictions received by it under the laws of this state") nor that of RCW 46.20.120 (". . . all the convictions certified by the courts . . .") would require the department to post British Columbia convictions to Washington drivers' records.  However, even if this be assumed, it does not follow that the department is without authority to do so.  Even though a power may not be given in express words, if its existence is reasonably necessary in order to effectuate the purposes intended by an express grant of authority, such power may be implied.  State ex rel. Hunter v. Sup. Ct., 34 Wn.2d 214, 208 P.2d 866 (1949).  It seems evident that the purpose of maintaining a violations record is to provide the director with the necessary data upon which "for the best interest of public safety" he may exercise his discretion by suspending or revoking the license of a Washington driver.  It would be absurd to suggest that in considering whether the public safety requires suspension or revocation of a license, the director could only reflect upon a portion of the total driving record of an individual.  Thus, in our view, irrespective of whether he is required by either RCW 46.20.171 (2) or RCW 46.52.120 to place the record of a British Columbia traffic violation on the driving record of a Washington driver, he would be remiss in his primary duty of promoting the "safety of our highways through driver license procedures" should he fail to do so.

            Further indicative of the legislative intent that the director should include on the driving record all violations reported is the language of another statute, RCW  [[Orig. Op. Page 7]] 46.52.130, which requires the director to provide insurance companies and prospective employers with a certified abstract of portions of the driving record.  That section requires the director to include on the abstract "any reported conviction or forfeitures of bail . . . upon a charge of violating any motor vehicle law."  The language used in this section clearly equates with that used in RCW 46.20.291 (c), quoted above, granting the department the express authority to suspend the license of an individual who has been convicted of traffic offenses with such a frequency such as to indicate a disrespect for traffic laws and disregard for the safety of other persons on the highways.

            In summary, then, in our view it is the duty of the director of the department of motor vehicles to consider all relevant information received by him in considering whether the driver's license of a Washingtonresident should be circumscribed.  When the information so received is in the form of a reported conviction fromBritish Columbia, it may be placed on the driving record of theWashingtondriver; andBritish Columbiaconvictions may be considered by the department and/or the director in determining whether the driver's license of an individual should be suspended.

            We trust the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General

RICHARD A. MATTSEN
Assistant Attorney General

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