Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1951 No. 70 -
Attorney General Smith Troy


Motorists smearing freshly painted traffic lines of highway paint crews may be charged with a misdemeanor and convicted of violating several provisions of the motor vehicle code.


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 June 12, 1951

Mr. William A Bugge, Director
Department of Highways
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                                       Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 70

Dear Sir:

            You have requested our opinion relative to the extent that motorists can be held liable for driving over freshly painted traffic lines when such lines are being placed upon the State highways.  You call attention to section 64, chapter 53, Laws of 1937, and ask whether it would be applicable in determining any penalty.  You also ask whether, in the absence of a law officer when a motorist deliberately smears a freshly painted traffic lane, the evidence furnished by a member of the paint striping crew as to the license number of the vehicle, the location and time of the incident, would be sufficient for the arrest of the violator for fining according to law.

            In the answer to your request, we have assumed that the regular paint striping crews of the Department with a flagman are concerned and/or that appropriate warning or traffic control signs have been placed by such crews on any newly painted lines, such signs being maintained until the paint is dry.

            It is our conclusion that motorists driving over newly painted lines on public highways may be charged with violations of sections 6360‑64, 6360‑118, 6360‑123 and/or 6360‑124 Rem. Rev.  Stat., if the area is posted with appropriate signs or a paint crew is working in the area with a regular flagman, that such motorist might be charged in the case of multiple‑lane highways with a violation of section 6360‑80 Rem. Rev. Stat.; that it is advisable that [Orig. Op. Page  2] each paint crew have a duly designated flagman with the duty of regulating and directing traffic and that such designated flagman could report traffic incidents involving the smearing of new paint lines or interference with a painting crew to a State Patrolman or other peace officer for investigation of the charge upon the evidence of such flagman; that violators in all such cases upon conviction would be guilty of a misdemeanor; that it is more advisable to take action under one of the sections cited above than under section 6400‑64 Rem. Rev. Stat.

[Orig. Op. Page 2]


            Section 64, chapter 189, Laws of 1937 (§ 6360‑64 Rem. Rev. Stat.) requires every person operating or driving a vehicle upon the public highways to operate the same in a careful and prudent manner under the conditions existing at the point of operation.  To disregard the directions for traffic control of a highway painting crew would, in our opinion, constitute disregard of the conditions existing in the area of highway being painted, and a failure to operate in a careful and prudent manner.

            Section 6360‑118 might also be cited.   This section makes it unlawful for any person to operate a motor vehicle in a reckless manner, indicating either an unlawful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.  It would seem that any person who disregarded the warning signs of the painting crew and passed other traffic or drove upon freshly painted surfaces would be guilty of operating in a reckless manner.  Sections 123 and 124, chapter 189, Laws of 1937 (§§6360‑123 and 1360‑124 Rem. Rev. Stat.) make it unlawful for any person to disobey traffic signs or lawfully erected traffic control devices.  Section 6360‑125 makes it unlawful to disregard or disobey signals of a peace officer or a duly authorized flagman who is at the time discharging the duty of regulating and directing traffic.

            There are other provisions of law dealing with multiple‑laned highways which might apply in cases arising upon such roads. Section 80, chapter 189, Laws of 1937 (§ 6360‑80  Rem.  Rev. Stat.) requires that when a roadway has been divided into three or more lanes for traffic that every vehicle shall be operated within a single lane until the operator has ascertained that movement to another lane can be made with safety.  The statute says that official signs may be erected directing a particular class of traffic to be moved in a designated lane and providing that it is unlawful for any person to disobey the directions of any such sign or signs.

            [Orig. Op. Page 3]

            Under section 150, chapter 189, Laws of 1937 (§ 6360‑150 Rem. Rev. Stat.) any violation of chapter 189 is declared to be a misdemeanor unless made a higher crime by some specific provision. The conviction of an individual under any of the sections above cited should result in his being punished as for a misdemeanor.

            It would be advisable to designate one person at least, of each painting crew, as a duly authorized flagman under the provisions of section 6360‑125,supra.  It is our opinion that a person so designated and authorized could exercise police power sufficient to arrest a person interfering with the painting of the highway crew and disregarding control signs, and if unequipped to pursue the violator, take the number of the vehicle concerned and report the location and incident to the State Patrol.  Before a warrant for the arrest of the owner of the car should issue, however, we suggest that a member of the patrol or other peace officer investigate to determine who was operating the vehicle at the time of the offense.

[Orig. Op. Page 3]

            The section you cite, section 64, chapter 53, Laws of 1937 (§ 6400‑64 Rem. Rev. Stat.), while it might be applicable in some cases, relates primarily to thewillful defacement of traffic signs or devices.  The painted lines are certainly such sign or device, but the proof of willfulness required would make a charge difficult to sustain against a driver who happened to get over the newly painted lines.  In our opinion, prosecution under one or more of the other sections cited herein would be much more desirable and advisable.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General