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AGO 1968 No. 25 - July 16, 1968
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


MOTOR VEHICLES - FARM VEHICLES - LICENSING - SCOPE OF EXEMPTION.

(1) A tractor designed for agricultural use, when towing a trailer which is carrying farm produce from one farm to another, is required to have either a vehicle license under RCW 46.16.010, or, in the alternative, a "farm vehicle" decal under § 3, chapter 202, Laws of 1967 (RCW 46.16.025).     

(2) Such a tractor when towing a trailer carrying farm produce to a processing plant or place of storage, is required both to have a vehicle license under RCW 46.16.010 and to pay the statutory gross weight fees related to its cargo in order to operate on a public highway.   

(3) A trailer having a "farm vehicle" decal under § 3, chapter 202, Laws of 1967 (RCW 46.16.025), may be operated upon a public highway by a person other than its owner, such as another farmer to whom the trailer has been loaned by its owner.

(4) The 15-mile radius limitation contained in § 2, chapter 202, Laws of 1967 (RCW 46.16.010, as amended) applies to the operation of a "farm vehicle" regardless of whether it is being operated by its owner or some other person.

(5) A "farm vehicle" when being operated on a public highway under authority of chapter 202, Laws of 1967, is not thereby excused from compliance with the motor vehicle lighting and equipment requirements of chapter 46.37 RCW; instead such a vehicle continues to be governed by the exemption provisions of RCW 46.37.010 (3).

(6) A "farm vehicle" when being operated on a public highway under authority of chapter 202, Laws of 1967, must be operated by a person having a valid operator's vehicle license under chapter 46.20 RCW, unless such person is exempt under RCW 46.20.025.

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

                                                                    July 16, 1968

Honorable Will Bachofner
Chief, Washington State Patrol
General Administration Building
Olympia, Washington 98501

                                                                                                                 Cite as:  AGO 1968 No. 25

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested an opinion  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] of this office on several questions pertaining to licensing and regulation of farm vehicles under chapter 202, Laws of 1967.  We paraphrase your questions as follows:

            (1) Is a tractor designed for agricultural use, when towing a trailer having a "farm vehicle" decal which is carrying farm produce from farm to farm, required to display a "farm vehicle" decal of its own in order to operate along a public highway"

            (2) Is such a tractor, when towing a trailer carrying farm produce to a processing plant or place of storage, required to have a vehicle license and to pay the statutory gross weight fees related to its cargo in order to operate on a public highway?

            (3) May a trailer having a "farm vehicle" decal be operated on a public highway by a person other than its owner, such as another farmer to whom the trailer has been loaned by its owner?

            (4) If question (3) is answered in the affirmative, would the fifteen mile radius limitation contained in § 2, chapter 202, Laws of 1967, still be applicable?

            (5) Is a "farm vehicle," when being operated on a public highway under authority of § 2, chapter 202, Laws of 1967, thereby excused from compliance with the motor vehicle lighting and equipment requirements of chapter 46.37 RCW?

            (6) Is the operator of such a "farm vehicle" thereby excused from the vehicle operator's license requirements of chapter 46.20 RCW?

            Questions (2) through (4) are answered in the affirmative; questions (5) and (6) are answered in the negative and question (1) is answered in the manner set forth in our analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            In AGO 65-66 No. 119, copy enclosed, we had occasion to consider in some detail the special motor vehicle licensing provisions pertaining to farm equipment, as those provisions read prior to the enactment of chapter 202, Laws of 1967.  We first noted that RCW 46.04.670 contains the following all-inclusive definition of the term "vehicle":

            ". . . every device capable of being moved upon a public highway and in, upon, or by  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] which any persons or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a public highway, excepting devices moved by human or animal power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks."

            Based upon the then existing provisions of RCW 46.16.010, infra, we then stated (in terms of licensing requirements) that a "vehicle" operated in connection with some form of farm enterprise had to be licensed in order to be operated on our public highways unless it was either:

            (a) A "farm tractor,"1/ or

            (b) A "farm implement" (including trailers designed as cook or bunkhouses, etc.), or

            (c) A trailer ". . . used exclusively to transport farm implements from one farm to another . . ."

            With respect to vehicles coming within the scope of either of the first two of these exceptions, the pre 1967 statute2/ granted a complete exemption from vehicle licensing requirements so long as the vehicle was only ". . . temporarily operated or drawn upon the public highways, . . ."  In the case of farm trailers, the exemption was dependent uponexclusive use ". . . to transport farm implements from one farm to another during the daylight hours or at night when such equipment has lights that comply with the law: . . ."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            By § 2, chapter 202, Laws of 1967, the legislature amended the governing statute, RCW 46.16.010, so as to cause it to read, in material part, as follows:

            "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 number plates therefor as by this chapter provided:  PROVIDED, That these provisions shall not apply to farm vehicle as defined in section 1 of this 1967 amendatory act if operated within a radius of fifteen miles of the farm where principally used or garaged, farm tractors and farm implements including trailers designed as cook or bunkhouses used exclusively for animal herding temporarily operating or drawn upon the public highways, and trailers used exclusively to transport farm implements from one farm to another during the daylight hours or at night when such equipment has lights that comply with the law: . . ."  (Amendatory language underscored.)

            The definition of "farm vehicle," as set forth in § 1 of this 1967 act (RCW 46.04.181), reads as follows:

            "'Farm vehicle' means any vehicle other than a farm tractor or farm implement which is designed and/or used primarily in agricultural pursuits on farms for the purpose of transporting machinery, equipment, implements, farm products, supplies and/or farm labor thereon and is only incidentally operated on or moved along public highways for the purpose of going from one farm to another."

            With respect to such a vehicle, the legislature, by § 3 of the act (RCW 46.16.025), made the following provision:

            "Before any 'farm vehicle', as defined in  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] section 1 of this amendatory act, shall operate on or move along a public highway, there shall be displayed upon it in a conspicuous manner a decal or other device, as may be prescribed by the director of motor vehicles and issued by the department of motor vehicles, which shall describe in some manner the vehicle and identify it as a vehicle exempt from the licensing requirements of this chapter. . . ."3/

             Quite apparently, the purpose of this 1967 act was to expand the scope of the previous exemption from licensing requirements of certain farm equipment.  Undoubtedly, it was enacted (at least to some extent) as a reaction to our earlier opinion (AGO 65-66 No. 119), to the extent that we had concluded therein that the then existing licensing exemptions did not extend to various types of farm apparatus which were described in the opinion.4/   The legislature's answer was to extend this exemption to a new class of vehicles described and defined as "farm vehicles" (§ 1, chapter 202, Laws of 1967) -provided that these vehicles are identified as such by display of the decal provided for in § 3,supra.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 6]]

            Notably this new provision, like the previous exemption, contains elements relating both to design (physical appearance) and use.  The previous farm equipment exemption had excluded from vehicle licensing requirements:

                  Type                Use

Farm tractors5/            Temporarily operated on the public highways.

Farm implements          Temporarily drawn upon the public
(including cook or         highways.
bunkhouses)

Farm trailers                 Used exclusively to transport farm implements from one farm to another.

            Thus, if a farm tractor, implement, or trailer, was being used in a manner, or for a purpose other than one of those permitted by the statute, the exemption did not apply AGO 65-66 No. 119.  Likewise, under the 1967 "farm vehicle" amendment, the expanded exemption will only apply to a vehicle (other than a "farm tractor" or a "farm implement" to the extent already exempt under prior law) which is "designed and/or used"

            ". . . primarily in agricultural pursuits on farms for the purpose of transporting machinery, equipment, implements, farm products, supplies and/or farm labor thereon and is only incidentally operated on or moved along public highways for the purpose of going from one farm to another."

            Because of this legislative approach to the matter, it will be seen that, depending upon its use at a particular time, the same vehicle (e.g., a tractor or trailer) may be either (1) totally exempt from both licensing and "farm vehicle" decal requirements; or (2) exempt from licensing requirements only if the "farm vehicle" decal is displayed; or (3) exempt from neither the licensing nor the decal requirements (because of a nonfarm use or farm use beyond the scope of either exemption provision).

             [[Orig. Op. Page 7]]

            Only with this point being understood, can a proper analysis of any factual case be made and applied.  With this in mind, let us now turn to the situation described in your first question which, repeated for ease of reference, is as follows:

            Question (1):

            Is a tractor designed for agricultural use, when towing a trailer having a "farm vehicle" decal which is carrying farm produce from farm to farm, required to display a "farm vehicle" decal of its own in order to operate along a public highway?

            Based upon the foregoing, we reason and answer as follows:

            (a) The fact that the trailer which is being towed has a "farm vehicle" decal is clearly immaterial, for the tractor is a separate and distinct vehicle;

            (b) No vehicle isrequired to display a "farm vehicle" decal, except to the extent that it is being operated as an exempt "farm vehicle" under the terms of the 1967 amendments.  Thus, if the tractor has been regularly licensed as a motor vehicle then no "farm vehicle" decal need be displayed because no exempt status is being claimed;

            (c) The use to which the tractor is being put in the situation described is beyond the scope of the "farm tractor" exemption because the exemption (by virtue of the definition contained in RCW 46.04.180), does not include cargo hauling uses;6/

             [[Orig. Op. Page 8]]

            (d) The use in question does come within the scope of the 1967 "farm vehicle" exemption because of the definition of "farm vehicle" contained in § 1, chapter 202, Laws of 1967, which, repeated for ease of reference, provides that:

            "'Farm vehicle' means any vehicle other than a farm tractor or farm implement which is designed and/or used primarily in agricultural pursuits on farms for the purpose of transporting machinery, equipment, implements, farm products, supplies and/or farm labor thereon and is only incidentally operated on or moved along public highways for the purpose of going from one farm to another."

            (e) Therefore, the tractor, in order to be used in the manner described, must either have an ordinary vehicle license or, in the alternative, a "farm vehicle" decal of its own.

            Question (2):

            By your second question you have asked whether such a tractor, when towing a trailer carrying farm produceto a processing plant or place of storage, is required to have an ordinary vehicle license and to pay statutory gross weight fees to operate on a public highway.

            Here, the tractor, although designed for agricultural use, would be engaging in an activity beyond the scope of either the "farm tractor" exemption or the new "farm vehicle" exemption.  Therefore, its operation would be permissible only after compliance with all of the general vehicle licensing requirements of the state, including payment of the gross weight fees for cargo carrying vehicles provided for by RCW 46.16.070 (or RCW 46.16.090, relating to farm trucks, if applicable).

            Questions (3) and (4):

            These two questions may be considered and answered together.  We have seen that under § 3, chapter 202, Laws of 1967, a "farm vehicle" (as defined in § 1), in order to be operated on a public highway without an ordinary vehicle license, must display a "farm vehicle" decal.  Under § 2,supra, its  [[Orig. Op. Page 9]] operation as a "farm vehicle" is limited to ". . . a radius of fifteen miles of the farm where principally used or garaged . . ."

            Section 3 further provides that the application for the decal must be made by the "owner or lessee of the vehicle, or his duly authorized agent," but once the decal is acquired the "farm vehicle" may be regularly operated on the highway (just as would a properly licensed private automobile) by the owner, his employees, or a bailee, so long as the other conditions of chapter 202 are complied with.  Therefore, in response to question (3), a trailer with a proper "farm vehicle" decal borrowed by one farmer from another may be lawfully operated on the highway.

            Section 3 also requires that the application for a "farm vehicle" decal must contain, among other information, a statement of the ". . . place where the farm vehicle is principally used or garaged."  Reading this provision together with the fifteen mile limitation contained in § 2, we conclude that a farm trailer for which a "farm vehicle" decal has been issued can only be operated thereunder within a fifteen mile radius of the place described in the application.

            In other words, in answer to question (4), we conclude that while there is no limitation on who may operate the vehicle, the vehicle must be operated within fifteen miles of the farm where it is principally used or garaged, as described in the application.

            Questions (5) and (6):

            These two questions may also be considered together.  In essence, you have asked whether the provisions of chapter 202, Laws of 1967, which exempt a "farm vehicle" of the vehicle licensing requirements of chapter 46.16 RCW,7/ also serve to excuse the vehicle from compliance with the vehicle lighting and equipment requirements of chapter 46.37 RCW, or to excuse the operator of such a "farm vehicle" from the vehicle operator's license requirements of chapter 46.20 RCW.

            Both these questions are clearly answerable in the negative.  Simply stated, chapter 202, Laws of 1967, has nothing whatsoever to do with either vehicle lighting and equipment  [[Orig. Op. Page 10]] requirements or vehicle operator's license requirements.  Rather, the provisions of this 1967 act pertain only to the question of whether a particular vehicle, being operated in a particular manner, can be operated on the public highways of this state without obtaining and displaying a vehicle license.

            Of course, as you are aware, chapter 46.37 RCW and chapter 46.20 RCW both contain exemption provisions which cover, inter alia, certain types of farm equipment.  Specifically, RCW 46.37.010 (3) states that the provisions of the chapter with respect to equipment on vehicles ". . . shall not apply to implements of husbandry, road machinery, road rollers or farm tractors except as herein made applicable."

            In the case of vehicle operator's licenses, RCW 46.20.025 reads, in material part:

            "The following persons are exempt from license hereunder:

            ". . .

            "(5) Any person while driving or operating any farm tractor or implement of husbandry which is only incidentally operated or moved over a highway."

            The first of these two provisions has been in effect since 19558/ and the second since 1937.9/   Neither has been affected by the enactment of chapter 202, Laws of 1967, so they should both continue to be administered as they have in the past.

            This concludes our consideration of your several questions,  [[Orig. Op. Page 11]] as we understand them.  We trust that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you in administering the provisions of the 1967 law to which your questions pertained.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

RICHARD F. WRENN
Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/Defined by RCW 46.04.180 as follows:

            "'Farm tractor' means every motor vehicle designed and used primarily as a farm implement for drawing plows, mowing machines, and other implements of husbandry."

2/See, § 1, chapter 33, Laws of 1947, as amended by § 1, chapter 265, Laws of 1955, and by § 51, chapter 3, Laws of 1963, Ex. Sess.  For almost two decades prior to 1947, the legislative policy had been one of licensingall vehicles operating over and along any public highway, without exception.  Compare, § 5, chapter 99, Laws of 1929, and § 15, chapter 88, Laws of 1937.

3/For purposes of this opinion, we refer to this decal as a "farm vehicle" decal.

4/In brief, we concluded that the exemption did not extend to:

            "(1) A self-propelled motor vehicle owned by a farmer and used solely for the purpose of transporting gasoline, diesel oil, grease and motor oil which the farmer uses for the maintenance of his farm equipment.

            "(2) A trailer owned by a farmer and used exclusively for hauling gasoline, diesel oil, grease and motor oil in the maintenance of his farm equipment.

            ". . . (3) a weed-burning device mounted on trailer owned by a propane gas company used by a farmer the majority of the time for the purpose of burning weeds and stubble."

5/See, again, RCW 46.04.180, supra.

6/This conclusion is also consistent with long-standing administrative construction of the applicable statutes by both the department of motor vehicles and the state patrol, which ever since passage of the 1947 amendment (§ 1, chapter 33, Laws of 1947) have uniformly interpreted the "farm tractor" licensing exemptions as applying only to tractors which are temporarily on the highway for some reason incidental to their primary use of drawing implements of husbandry.  At no time in the past has either department considered the hauling of produce or nonexempt machines as incidental to a farm tractor's exempt use.  SeeBradley v. Dept. Labor & Ind., 52 Wn.2d 780, 329 P.2d 196 (1958), for a statement by our court as to the significance of such a long-standing administrative construction.

7/Upon compliance with § 3, supra.

8/See, § 1, chapter 269, Laws of 1955.

9/See, § 43, chapter 188, Laws of 1937, together with § 46.20.020, chapter 12, Laws of 1961, and § 3, chapter 121, Laws of 1965, Ex. Sess.

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