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AGO 1984 No. 29 - December 05, 1984
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Ken Eikenberry | 1981-1992 | Attorney General of Washington

CHILDREN ‑- MOTOR VEHICLES ‑- MOTORCYCLES ‑- CHILDREN AS PASSENGERS ON MOTORCYCLES 

(1) The provisions of RCW 46.61.687, relating to the transportation of young children as passengers in motor vehicles operated by the child's parent or legal guardian and requiring that the child be properly secured in a manner approved by the State Commission on Equipment, is applicable to the transportation of a child less than five years old on a motorcycle operated by his or her parent or guardian.

(2) Until adequate child restraint devices for motorcycles are at some time developed, and then approved for use in this state by the State Commission on Equipment, it is, therefore, illegal for the parent or legal guardian of a child under five years of age to transport that child on his or her motorcycle, just as it would be illegal for them to transport their child in their automobile without an approved device.

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                                                                December 5, 1984
Honorable George Walk
State Representative, 25th District
11607 ‑ 98th Avenue East
Puyallup, Washington 98373

Cite as:  AGO 1984 No. 29                                                                                                                

 Dear Sir:

             By its enactment of § 2, chapter 215, Laws of 1983 (since codified as RCW 46.61.687) the legislature imposed a requirement that young children riding as passengers in a motor vehicle be ". . . secured in a manner approved by the state commission on equipment."  You recently requested our opinion regarding the applicability of that requirement to motorcycles.  Specifically, you asked:

             "Does the child restraint law apply to children being transported on motorcycles?  If the answer is in the affirmative, does this mean that children under the age of five may not ride on a cycle since it is incapable of being equipped with a seat belt or child restraint system?"

              [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            We answer your first question in the affirmative and your second question in the manner set forth in our analysis.

                                                                      ANALYSIS

             Question (1):

             The relevant language of § 2, chapter 215, Laws of 1983 (now codified as RCW 46.61.687) reads as follows:

             "After December 31, 1983, the parent or legal guardian of a child less than five years old, when the parent or legal guardian is operating anywhere in the state his or her own motor vehicle registered under chapter 46.16 RCW, in which the child is a passenger, shall have the child properly secured in a manner approved by the state commission on equipment. . . ."

             A "motor vehicle," for the purposes of the State Motor Vehicle Code (Title 46 RCW), is defined by RCW 46.04.320 to mean,

             ". . . every vehicle which is self-propelled and every vehicle which is propelled by electric power obtained from overhead trolley wires, but not operated upon rails."

             In turn, RCW 46.04.330 defines the term "motorcycle" as follows:

             "'Motorcycle' means every motor vehicle having a saddle for the use of the rider and designed to travel on not more than three wheels in contact with the ground, but excluding a farm tractor and a moped."

             The primary objective in interpreting a statute is to ascertain and give effect to the intent and purpose of the legislature.  Condit v. Lewis Refrigeration Co., 101 Wn.2d 106, 676 P.2d 466 (1984).  Where the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous, there is no room for interpretation or construction.  Crown Cascade, Inc. v. O'Neal, 100 Wn.2d 256, 668 P.2d 585 (1983).  In this instance, when the legislature enacted chapter 215, Laws of 1983, it manifested an intent to provide protection for children less than five years old when being transported in any "motor vehicle."  And, as above noted, a motorcycle is defined (by the Motor Vehicle Code) to be a motor vehicle.

              [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            It is also clear to us that, due to its design, a young child is exposed to even a greater risk as a passenger on a motorcycle than when riding in an ordinary automobile.  We further note that the legislature, by another statute enacted earlier, has also made it illegal to carry a passenger (of any age) on a motorcycle except on a "permanent and regular seat" located at the rear or side of the operator.  See, RCW 46.61.610.  Therefore, given the underlying purpose with respect to the instant statute, i.e., to provide special protection for younger children, we must conclude that the legislature intended to require such protection for all motor vehicles, including motorcycles.1/ If the legislature had intended to exclude motorcycles from the requirement of that 1983 law it could easily have done so.  We thus answer your first question in the affirmative.

             Question (2):

             Section 1 of chapter 215, Laws of 1983, supra, which has since been codified as RCW 46.37.505, provides that:

             "By October 1, 1983, the state commission on equipment shall adopt standards for the performance, design, and installation of passenger restraint systems for children less than five years old and shall approve those systems which meet its standards."

             We are advised, however, that the Commission on Equipment has not approved of any such devices or restraint systems to be used in transporting young children on motorcycles.  We are also informed that the Commission is not aware of any device now being manufactured for installation on motorcycles.

             Your second question assumes our affirmative answer to question (1) and asks, therefore, whether this means that children under the age of five are now effectively prohibited from being transported on motorcycles at all.

             Section 1 of chapter 215, supra, was added to chapter 46.37 RCW, relating to vehicle lighting and other equipment, at the  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] express direction of the legislature.  Yet subsection (6) of RCW 46.37.010 says that:

             "The provisions of this chapter with respect to equipment required on vehicles shall not apply to motorcycles or motor-driven cycles except as herein made applicable."

             It has apparently therefore been suggested, by some, that the Commission on Equipment has no legal authority to effectuate the provisions of § 1, chapter 215 (RCW 46.37.505)supra, with respect to motorcycles.  And then, from that proposition it has further been suggested, notwithstanding the plain, clear and unambiguous language of chapter 215, supra, that the subject 1983 legislation should not be deemed to be applicable to motorcycles at all.

             In our opinion, however, those arguments are without merit.  We have already concluded, based upon the express language of the legislation (coupled with the definitions contained in the Motor Vehicle Code), that the legislature must be deemed to have intended the law to apply to motorcycles as well as to other motor vehicles.  It therefore must also be logically concluded that the legislature intended, by § 1 of the law, to make it a responsibility of the Commission on Equipment to deal, as well, with the matter of child restraint devices for motorcycles‑-any inference to the contrary from RCW 46.37.010(6), supra, notwithstanding.

             It is, of course, a basic tenet of statutory construction that the legislature never intends absurd or unreasonable consequences and, therefore, any ambiguities in a statute should be resolved so as to avoid those kinds of consequences.  Bellevue Fire Fighters v. Bellevue, 100 Wn.2d 748, 675 P.2d 592 (1984);Knappett v. Locke, 92 Wn.2d 643, 600 P.2d 1257 (1979);State v. Burke, 92 Wn.2d 474, 598 P.2d 395 (1979).  In our opinion, however, it would be absurd to conclude that notwithstanding § 1,supra, of the instant legislation, the Commission on Equipment has no authority to adopt standards for, and approve of, child restraint devices for installation on motorcycles.  And furthermore, directing our attention now to your ultimate question, it would be even more absurd to conclude that the legislature nevertheless meant to allow young children to be transported by their parents or legal guardians on motorcycleswithout the use of any such restraint devices until, and unless, such time as the Commission on Equipment is able to discover the existence of any such devices‑-and then to approve of their use.

              [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            If adequate child restraint devices for motorcycles are at some time developed we believe that the Commission on Equipment could then approve of their use and, thereby, permit the legal transportation of young children by their parents or legal guardians on motorcycles.  However, until such a device has been developed and approved there is only one answer to your second question which makes any sense at all; namely, it is illegal for the parent or legal guardian of a child under five years of age to transport that child on his or her motorcycle, just as it would be illegal for them to transport their child in their automobile without an approved device.2/        We trust that the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

 Very truly yours,
KENNETH O. EIKENBERRY
Attorney General

T. G. HOLCOMB, JR.
Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

 1/It is also important to note and understand, however, that the subject statute (RCW 46.61.687) only applies by its own terms, when the motor vehicle (including a motorcycle) involved belongs to and is being operated by the parent or legal guardian of the child who is being transported.

 2/The question of whether the law should be expanded to cover, as well, persons other than the parents or guardians of the children is one which the 1985 legislature might well desire to take a further look at.

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