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AGO 1959 No. 61 - August 21, 1959
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington

LICENSES - MOTOR VEHICLE OPERATORS - INFORMATION AUTHORIZED TO BE FURNISHED FROM DRIVER'S RECORD UNDER FINANCIAL RESPONSIBILITY ACT.

Any information contained in a motor vehicle operator's file which would be helpful in determining whether to post proof of the ability to respond in damages of a driver whose license has been suspended should be furnished to any person or company satisfying the director of licenses that the information is sought to aid in such a determination.

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

                                                                 August 21, 1959

Honorable Louise S. Taylor
Director of Licenses
General Administration Building
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                  Cite as:  AGO 59-60 No. 61

Dear Mrs. Taylor:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested our opinion on a series of questions which we paraphrase as follows:

            What information must be furnished under RCW 46.24.170 concerning a motor vehicle operator's driving record, and to whom must this information be transmitted?

            The answer to your question is contained in the analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Your question is prompted in part by what seems at first an inconsistency between two statutory sections which purport to regulate the use of motor vehicle operators' records.  One of these sections, § 21, chapter 158, Laws of 1939 (cf. RCW 46.24.170) provides, in part, as follows:

            "The Director shall upon request furnish any insurance carrier, person, or surety a certified abstract of the operating record of any person subject to the provisions of this act, which abstract shall fully designate the motor  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] vehicles (if any) registered in the name of such person, and if there is no record of any conviction of such person of a violation of any provision of any statute relating to the operating of a motor vehicle or of any judgment rendered against such person as herein provided, the Director shall so certify. . . ." (Emphasis supplied.)

            The other section is § 144, chapter 189, Laws of 1937 (cf. RCW 46.52.120) which provides, in part, as follows:

            "It shall be the duty of the director of licenses to keep a case record on every motor vehicle operator 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 of licenses, by the chief of the Washington state patrol, with reference to each operator involved in the reported accidents.  Such records shall be for the confidential use of the director of licenses and the chief of the Washington state patrol and for such peace officers or other cognizant public officials as may be designated by law. . . ." (Emphasis supplied.)

            The second section set out above (RCW 46.52.120) is a part of a general act entitled the "Washington Motor Vehicle Act" which purports to deal with the entire subject matter of motor vehicles and their operation on public highways.  The first section set out above is a portion of a special act entitled "Uniform Motor Vehicle Safety Responsibility Act" which relates generally to the giving of proof of financial responsibility by certain motor vehicle operators and owners.  InState v. Becker, 39 Wn. (2d) 94, 96, 234 P. (2d) 297, the supreme court of this state said:

            ". . . where general and special laws are concurrent, the special law applies to the subject matter contemplated by it to the exclusion of the general law. . . ."

            Application of this principle to the facts herein leads us to the conclusion that the special act (RCW 46.24.170) controls over the general (RCW 46.52.120).

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            Assuming, then, that the director of licenses must comply with RCW 46.24.170, it remains to be decided what persons' records must be furnished, the necessary content of the abstract of operating record, and what persons are empowered to request and receive this information.

            The controlling section (RCW 46.24.170) provides that the director shall furnish:

            ". . . a certified abstract of the operating record of any personsubject to the provisions of this act, . . ." (Emphasis supplied.)

            The "persons subject to the provisions" thereof are those who are required to give proof of financial responsibility.  Generally, they are those whose licenses have been suspended (RCW 46.24.030) and those who have failed to satisfy judgments arising out of motor vehicle accidents (RCW 46.24.190).  RCW 46.52.120 is controlling on all records not covered by RCW 46.24.170; forState v. Becker, supra, directs that whenever apparently inconsistent statutes can be construed together so that the special act governs its restricted subject matter, and the general act governs outside the limited scope of the special act, such construction is favored in the law.  This is precisely the situation in the question at hand.  Therefore, the director can furnish information only on persons who are subject to the provisions of the safety responsibility act (chapter 46.24 RCW).

            RCW 46.24.170 provides specifically for the furnishing of certain information and an abstract of the operating record.  The meaning of the term "operating record" becomes clear when analyzed in the light of the purposes of the act.  In determining the intent of the legislature, the purpose for which a law was enacted is a matter of prime importance in arriving at a correct interpretation of its parts.  State ex rel. Spokane United Railways v. Department of Public Service, 191 Wash. 595, 71 P. (2d) 661.

            The purpose of the disclosure section of this statute is to better inform those persons or businesses who furnish on behalf of affected drivers and owners proof of their ability to respond in damages.  The statute anticipates the furnishing of anything in the driving record which is relevant to the risk being assumed or questioned.  The operator's record of convictions for motor vehicle violations, and the record of his accidents are highly indicative of the operator's driving habits and thus clearly relevant.  Any other information contained in the case record which is relevant to the risk in question should also be made available.

            The remaining question is what persons are authorized under RCW 46.24.170 to receive the information mentioned therein.  In the words of  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] the statute, the director shall, upon request, furnish information to:

            ". . . Any insurance carrier, person, or surety . . ."

            The terms "insurance carrier" and "surety" raise no particular interpretive problems.  The troublesome term is "person."  Does the use of this general term authorize any person to receive abstracts of the operating record?  An oft repeated rule of statutory construction is that of ejusdem generis.  In State ex rel. Gilroy v. Superior Court, 37 Wn. (2d) 926, 932, 226 P. (2d) 882, the supreme court quoted with approval fromState v. Hemrich, 93 Wash. 439, 447, 161 Pac. 79, L.R.A. 1917B, 962, as follows:

            "'"In statutory construction, the 'ejusdem generis rule' is that where general words follow an enumeration of persons or things by words of a particular and specific meaning, such general words are not to be construed in their widest extent, but are to be held as applying only to persons or things of the same generalkind orclass as those specifically mentioned."  Black's Law Dictionary, p. 415.'"  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Specifically mentioned are two kinds or classes of persons or businesses who ordinarily post on behalf of drivers, proof of the latter's ability to respond in damages.  Thus, the term "person" should be limited in its application to those persons who are interested in posting such proof.

            To summarize, we conclude that you must furnish relevant information contained in a motor vehicle operator's file which would be useful to those mentioned in RCW 46.24.170 in determining whether to post proof of ability to respond in damages on behalf of a particular driver, whose license has been suspended.  The information must be furnished to any person when it reasonably appears to the director of licenses that the information is sought to assist them in deciding whether to post such proof.

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

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

CHARLES R. JOHNSON
Assistant Attorney General

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