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AGO 1968 No. 28 - August 29, 1968
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


OFFICES AND OFFICERS - STATE - UTILITIES AND TRANSPORTATION COMMISSION - USE OF UNIFORM TRAFFIC TICKET AND COMPLAINT.

The Traffic Rules for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction, as promulgated by the Washington Supreme Court, do not apply to violations of the provisions of chapter 81.80 RCW, relating to motor freight carriers, so as to require the use of a Uniform Traffic Ticket and Complaint by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission in proceedings against violators of this chapter.  Instead, such violations are governed by the Criminal Rules for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction, as amended, which provide for the use of a similar uniform ticket (citation and notice to appear) only if it is to serve as the complaint in the criminal prosecution.

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

                                                                 August 29, 1968

Honorable Robert D. Timm
Chairman
Washington Utilities and
Transportation Commission
Insurance Building
Olympia, Washington 98501

                                                                                                                 Cite as:  AGO 1968 No. 28

Dear Sir:

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

            Do violations of chapter 81.80 RCW constitute "traffic offenses" within the meaning of the Washington Supreme Court's Traffic Rules for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction, so as to require the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission to use a Uniform Traffic Ticket and Complaint, pursuant to Rule T2.01 (a), in proceedings against violators of this chapter?

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            We answer your question in the negative as explained in our analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            The Washington Supreme Court in 1963 issued its Rules for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction.1/   Included were the Traffic Rules for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction, which made provision for use of the Uniform Traffic Ticket and Complaint as sponsored by the American Bar Association Traffic Court Program.  See, Rule T2.01 (a), which provides, in part:

            "Intraffic cases the complaint and citation shall be substantially in the form known as the 'Uniform Traffic Ticket and Complaint' sponsored by the American Bar Association Traffic Court Program. . . ."  (Emphasis supplied)

            The definition of a "traffic case" is to be deduced from Rule T1.04, which provides, in part:

            "As used in these rules, unless the context, and substantive or statutory law, requires otherwise:

            "(1)'Traffic Offense' means any violation, other than a felony, of a statute relating to the licensing of vehicle operators, any violation, other than a felony, of a statute, ordinance, or resolution of a county or municipal corporation or regulation relating to the operation or use of motor vehicles and any violation, other than a felony, of a statute, ordinance, resolution, or regulationrelating to the use of streets and highways by pedestrians orby the operation of any vehicle; except non-moving traffic offenses under county or municipal ordinance, resolution, or regulation.

            ". . .

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            "(3) 'Traffic Case' means a court case involving a traffic offense."  (Emphasis supplied)

            Although the terms "traffic offense" and "traffic case" are thus defined, the rules also refer to "traffic violations," and no definition is given for that term.  In this regard, Rule T2.02 provides in part:

            "(a) Alltraffic violations shall be prosecuted by complaint in the form provided in rule T2.01 and applicable state statutes.

            "(b) Whenever any person is arrested by an officer for any violation of the traffic laws or regulations of the state, a county or a city, the officer shall fill out the complaint and citation form in accordance with rule T2.01 and applicable statutes."  (Emphasis supplied)

            On the other hand, all other criminal proceedings in courts of limited jurisdiction (except public intoxication cases, which continue to be governed by preexisting procedure) are governed by a separate set of rules designated Criminal Rules (J.Cr.) for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction.  Under these rules, as recently amended by the Supreme Court,2/ a prosecution may be initiated either by the filing of a complaint or through use of a new uniform ticket known as a citation and notice to appear.  See, J.CrR 2.01.

            Chapter 81.80 RCW constitutes a part of what is known as the Public Service Law and governs the operation of motor freight carriers.  The following sections of this chapter describe the types of conduct by these carriers which constitute violations of the chapter:3/

            (1) RCW 81.80.070, which provides in part:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            "No 'common carrier,' 'contract carrier,' or 'temporary carrier' shall operate for the transportation of property for compensation in this state without first obtaining from the commission a permit so to do. . . ."

            (2) RCW 81.80.100, which provides in part:

            ". . . No permit holder shall operate except in accordance with the permit issued to him."

            (3) RCW 81.80.300, which provides in part:

            ". . .

            "It shall be unlawful for any 'common carrier' or 'contract carrier' to operate any motor vehicle within this state unless there is carried within the cab of the motive power vehicle, either operating as a solo vehicle or in combination with trailers, the identification cab card and decal or stamp or number required by this section . . ."

            RCW 81.04.460 contains the following provision with respect to the enforcement responsibilities of the Utilities and Transportation Commission:

            "It shall be the duty of the commission to enforce the provisions of this title and all other acts of this state affecting public service companies, the enforcement of which is not specifically vested in some other officer or tribunal.  Any employee of the commission may, without a warrant, arrest any person found violating in his presence any provision of this title, or any rule or regulation adopted by the commission:  Provided, That each such employee shall be first specifically designated in writing by the commission or a member thereof as having been found to be a fit and proper person to exercise such authority.  Upon being so designated such person shall be a peace officer and a police officer for the purposes herein mentioned."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            You have indicated in your letter that in accordance with authority granted in this last statute, the commission has designated certain persons as peace officers for the purpose of enforcing the provisions of Title 81, including chapter 81.80 RCW, supra.  When confronted with a violation, these officers either make arrests or, in some cases, they simply issue citations for operations over public highways in contravention of such regulatory provisions as RCW 81.80.070, 81.80.100, and 81.80.300,supra.  However, as we understand the procedure that is followed by the designated commission personnel, any criminal proceeding is initiated by a complaint in the manner described in JCrR 2.01.  Citations issued by such designated personnel are issued merely as a matter of courtesy in lieu of taking the offender immediately into custody.  See,State v. Doolittle, 69 Wn.2d 744, 419 P.2d 1012 (1966).

            In the past the form of courtesy citation employed has been one adopted by the commission.  The question which has precipitated this opinion request is whether the use of this form may continue (where prosecution is to be initiated by complaint rather than through use of the new uniform citation and notice to appear) or whether operations by motor common or contract carriers in violation of the above quoted provisions of chapter 81.80 RCW constitute "traffic offenses" within the meaning of Rule T1.04 so as to require the use of the Uniform Traffic Ticket and Complaint.

            As previously noted, Rule T1.04 defines "traffic offense" as any violation, other than a felony, of a statute relating to the operation or use of motor vehicles or relating to the use of streets and highways by the operation of any vehicle.  Since the operation of motor vehicles over the highways is the sine qua non of motor common or contract carriage, this definition, taken in its broadest sense would include operation of a motor freight carrier in violation of chapter 81.80 RCW, supra, as a traffic offense.  By the same token, the use of a motor vehicle for plying the bootlegger's trade or carrying a loaded firearm in an otherwise lawfully operated motor vehicle would similarly be traffic offenses.  We do not believe, however, that the Supreme Court, in the promulgation of its traffic rules, intended to establish the procedure for commencing prosecution of offenses other than those relating to the manner of operating a motor vehicle, its equipment and licensing, and the qualifications of the individual operator.  We believe that support for this interpretation is found in the court's reference to "traffic violations"  [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] in Rule T2.02.  Although no such broad definition was given for the term "traffic violations," as was given for "traffic offense," the court was obviously referring to the same type of conduct, and we believe that in both instances the court had reference to what are ordinarily recognized to be traffic violations; i.e., violations of thetraffic laws, or regulations of the state, a county or a city.  Rule T2.02 (b),supra.

            While the traffic rules, along with the various other sets of rules for courts of limited jurisdiction, were stated to have been adopted "to establish uniform procedure in this state for the courts of limited jurisdiction,"4/ reference to the history of these particular rules proves helpful in pinpointing their specific objective.  A 1963 study for the Joint Fact-Finding Committee on Highways, Streets, and Bridges of the Washington state legislature had drawn attention to the lack of uniformity with which traffic justice was administered throughout the state.5/   The study recommended, inter alia, that the Uniform Traffic Ticket and Complaint be adopted on a state wide [[statewide]]basis to prevent possible abuses, to insure more consistent treatment of traffic violators, and to provide a uniform form for reporting court convictions to the Department of Licenses.

            This Uniform Traffic Ticket and Complaint consists of a set of four printed model forms with the face of each form being substantially identical.  The original form serves as a complaint; the first copy is the abstract of court record for the state licensing authority; the second copy is the traffic citation; and the third copy is the police record.  The officer issuing the citation for a traffic violation is responsible for depositing the complaint and the "abstract of court record" copies with a court or traffic violations bureau of competent jurisdiction.

            A state statute, RCW 46.52.100, requires the court to forward to the director of motor vehicles6/ an abstract  [[Orig. Op. Page 7]] of court record following "the conviction or forfeiture of bail of a person upon a charge of violating any provisions of this chapter or other law regulating the operating of vehicles on highways . . ."  Similarly, Rule T2.06 of the Traffic Rules for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction makes it the duty of a traffic violations bureau to forward to the director of motor vehicles the "abstract of court record" copy of the complaint and citation indicating the disposition of each case involving bail forfeiture.  Thus, it becomes clear that one of the primary reasons for adopting the Uniform Traffic Ticket and Complaint was to provide uniformity in reporting court convictions of traffic offenses covered by RCW 46.52.100 and to promote liaison between the various justice courts and the state department having jurisdiction over vehicle and driver records.

            In answer to our inquiry concerning the practices of the Department of Motor Vehicles with respect to violations of the provisions of chapter 81.80 RCW, we have received a memorandum advising that violations of this type are not included in an individual's permanent driving record, nor are they used in the department's discretionary driver improvement program for the purpose of suspending a person's drivers license.  The department has indicated that evidence of violations of this nature would not have any bearing on the question of whether an individual had the ability safely to operate a motor vehicle.

            This administrative interpretation of the motor vehicle laws of the state is consistent with our view that the court did not intend, in issuing the traffic rules, to have them apply to violations of the provisions of the public service law.  The existence or absence of regulatory authority to operate over the highways for compensation is of no moment to the Department of Motor Vehicles, which has no jurisdiction in this area.

            In our opinion the court, in defining "traffic offenses," had reference to laws such as those found in Title 46 RCW, the Motor Vehicle Code, which codifies "an act relating to vehicles . . ."7/ and governs the regulation and licensing of vehicles themselves and persons in relation thereto.  On the other hand, chapter 81.80 RCW is part of "an act relating to public service properties and utilities . . ."8/

             [[Orig. Op. Page 8]]

            Its provisions do not deal with the operation or use of motor vehicles as such, but only to their operation or use in connection with the transportation of freight for compensation in short, economic regulation.

            In common with other vehicles and operators, a public service vehicle and its driver must comply with the applicable requirements of Title 46 [[Title 46 RCW]], and failure to do so would, of course, constitute a "traffic offense."  However, in addition, the motor common or contract carrier must possess appropriate authority to engage in this business, and in our judgment, its failure to have such authority is not a traffic violation in any traditional or accepted sense.

            While we have found no decided case directly in point, our court was presented with a somewhat similar interpretation problem in State v. Antonsen, 29 Wn.2d 725, 189 P.2d 219 (1948).  It was held that an action for damages to an automobile was not an action "for recovery of damages arising from a motor vehicle accident," within the meaning of a venue statute,9/ where the damage was caused by paint being sprayed over the automobile while it was being driven across a bridge that was being painted.  Since the accident undoubtedly occurred (the automobile was splattered with paint), it could be said that the action was one for the recovery of damages arising from a motor vehicle accident, but such an occurrence does not suggest a "motor vehicle accident" to the ordinary mind, and so the court concluded.

            We believe that the same may be said here that violations of chapter 81.80 RCW, such as those cited above, would not be considered "traffic offenses" or "traffic violations" within the ordinary and accepted meaning of those terms.  In addition, we do not believe the court had reference to offenses of this nature when it defined "traffic offense" in the Traffic Rules for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction, since the provisions of chapter 81.80 RCW relate primarily to the business of engaging in public service activities, and only incidentally to the operation or use of motor vehicles.  Thus, we do not believe that the Traffic Rules for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction apply in these cases and the Utilities and Transportation Commission would not be required to use the Uniform Traffic Ticket and Complaint in proceeding against violators of the provisions of chapter 81.80 RCW.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 9]]

            Since they are not "traffic offenses," violations of the provisions of chapter 81.80 RCW would be governed by the Supreme Court's Criminal Rules for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction.  This means that under JCrR 2.01, as amended, a prosecution must be initiated either by complaint (as in the past) or through use of the new uniform citation and notice to appear.  The use of the new form is not mandatory, and the rules continue to provide for prosecution of offenses by ordinary complaint, signed under oath by the prosecuting attorney or other authorized officer, JCrR 2.01.  Thus, we believe that the prior practice of the commission of issuing courtesy citations in certain cases followed by the filing of a formal complaint may continue and the new uniform ticket need only be used if the commission wishes to avail itself of the provisions of JCrR 2.01 as amended so as to have the citation also serve as the complaint.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

PATRICK L. MC ELIGOT
Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/Wash. Rev. Code, Vol. 0 (1963).

2/See, 74 W.D. 2d i [[74 Wn.2d i]].

3/Violations of these provisions are gross misdemeanors.  See, RCW 81.04.390.

4/Ott:  Foreward to Rules for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction, Washington Revised Code, Volume 0 (1963).

5/The study was reported in Brown & Bore, Court Reporting of Traffic Convictions, (1960).

6/Certain functions of the Department of Licenses were transferred to the Department of Motor Vehicles by chapter 156, Laws of 1965.

7/Chapter 12, Laws of 1961.

8/Chapter 14, Laws of 1961.

9/RCW 4.12.020(3).

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