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AGO 1959 No. 57 - August 05, 1959
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


Miniature automobiles powered by gasoline engines or electric motors are motor vehicles and come within the provisions of the motor vehicle code.

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                                                                  August 5, 1959

Honorable Roy A. Betlach
Chief, Washington State Patrol
General Administration Building
Olympia, Washington                                                                                           Cite as:  AGO 59-60 No. 57

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged, you have requested our opinion on a question paraphrased as follows:

            (1) Are miniature automobiles, powered by gasoline engines or electric motors, motor vehicles within the provisions of the motor vehicle code?

            We answer your question in the affirmative.


            The facts pertinent to your inquiry reflect that an ever increasing number of miniature automobiles are becoming available on the market which are powered by either gasoline engines or electric motors, and are designed primarily as toys.  They approximate four or five feet in length, are provided in kits, and ordinarily are assembled by the purchaser.  Such automobiles are usually purchased for youngsters who are not eligible for motor vehicle operators' licenses, and they are not ordinarily equipped to conform with state motor vehicle equipment laws.

            RCW 46.04.320, prior to its amendment in 1959, read as follows:

            "'Motor vehicle' shall mean every vehicle except a motorcycle, which is in itself a self-propelled unit, and which is primarily designed and intended for the transportation of persons or property upon the public highways."  (Emphasis supplied.)

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            Section 33, chapter 49, Laws of 1959 amended the foregoing definition by eliminating the above underscored qualifying language and substituting one minor qualification.  The definition as amended reads as follows:

            "'Motor vehicle' shall 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."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            The 1959 amendment is particularly significant in one important respect in that the elimination of the qualifying language has produced a broad, all-inclusive definition.  As a matter of fact, it would be extremely challenging to attempt a broader definition.  With the one stated exception, the definition literally includes all self-propelled vehicles.

            The fundamental object of all statutory construction is to ascertain and to give effect to the intention of the lawmakers.  Graffell v. Honeysuckle, 30 Wn. (2d) 390, 191 P. (2d) 858.  Where the language of the statute is plain, free from ambiguity and devoid of uncertainty, there is no room for construction for the meaning will be determined from the wording itself.  State v. Houck, 32 Wn. (2d) 681, 203 P. (2d) 693.

            The controlling definition as amended is plain, free of ambiguity, and devoid of uncertainty.  The legislative intention to include all selfpropelled vehicles save the one stated exception, is manifest from the language of the statute.  In addition, your attention is directed to the case of In re Phillip's Estate, 193 Wash. 194, 201, 74 P. (2d) 1015, wherein it is said:

            "Resort to repealed and superseded statutes in pari materia, may be had, and is of great importance, in the construction of statutes which reenact, with certain changes, or repeal former statutes, or which contain revisions or codifications of earlier laws. . . ."

            Consideration of the elimination of the qualifying language of the former definition in light of the above principle of statutory construction fortifies our conclusion that the legislature intended a broad, all-inclusive definition.

            It is, therefore, our opinion that miniature, self-propelled automobiles are motor vehicles by virtue of § 33, chapter 49, Laws of 1959.  It necessarily follows that owners and operators of these miniature vehicles are subject to the same restrictions as are owners and operators of more  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] conventional motor vehicles in matters of licensing, registration and operation on public thoroughfares.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

ttorney General

Assistant Attorney General

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