Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1956 No. 348 - Nov 29 1956
Attorney General Don Eastvold


Operators of motorcycles and farm tractors operated on the public highways are subject to the Financial Responsibility Act (chapters 46.24 and 46.28 RCW) since the definition of motor vehicles contained in said act (RCW 46.24.010 as derived from § 4 (b), chapter 158, Laws of 1939) and not the definition contained in RCW 46.04.320 (1955 Supp.) defines the motor vehicles to which it is applicable.

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                                                               November 29, 1956

Honorable Della Urquhart
Director of Licenses
General Administration Building
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 55-57 No. 348

Dear Mrs. Urquhart:

            You have asked our opinion on the following question:

            Are the operators of motorcycles and farm tractors subject to the provisions of the financial responsibility statutes (chapters 46.24 and 46.28 RCW) in view of the new definition (RCW 46.04.320 (1955 Supp.)) of a motor vehicle?

            We answer your question in the affirmative.


            The problem presented by your question is whether motorcycles and farm tractors are governed by the definition of "motor vehicle" under RCW 46.04.320 (as amended by § 10, chapter 384, Laws of 1955), which provides:

            "'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."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            or under RCW 46.24.010, which, in so far as here applicable, provides:

            "'Motor vehicle' includes 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;"

            It seems apparent that, under RCW 46.04.320 (1955 Supp.), supra, "a motor vehicle" excepts "a motorcycle," and the statute is susceptible of an interpretation confined only to those vehicles "primarily designed and intended for the transportation of persons or property upon the public highways," in which event farm tractors could likewise be excepted.

            On the contrary, RCW 46.24.010, since it includes "every vehicle which is self-propelled," encompasses both motorcycles and farm tractors.

            It would seem obvious that the particular definition in the specific act under consideration should govern the application of the provisions of the act.  In other words, the application of the provisions of the financial responsibility law (chapter 46.24.and 46.28 RCW) should be governed by the definition of "motor vehicle" as therein contained in RCW 46.24.010.

            However, at the very beginning of Title 46, Motor Vehicles, we find this codification:

            "46.04.010 Introductory.  Terms used in this title shall have the meaning given to them in this chapter."

            Since chapter 46.04 RCW covers definitions, this section indicates that all definitions in the chapter apply to the use of the terms in the entire title.  We believe, however, that this codification is an unauthorized extension of the statutory provisions from which it is derived.  The session laws of 1937 and 1943 (chapters 188 and 189, Laws of 1937, and chapter 153, Laws of 1943), from which the RCW compilation is derived, in so far as here applicable read as follows:

            "The following words and phrases, wherever used in this act, shall have the meaning as in this section ascribed to them, unless where used the context thereof shall clearly indicate to the contrary."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            From this it is apparent that the definitions in chapter 46.04 RCW should be confined to the act or acts from which they are derived and should not  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] be extended to the entire title, since it is evident that the title is composed of independent acts.  If this be so, it is possible to harmonize their application to the particular purposes sought to be accomplished by the act.  Lindsay v. Superior Court, 33 Wn. (2d) 94; P.U.D. v. Newport, 38 Wn. (2d) 221.  A brief tracing of the legislative history of the acts under consideration will demonstrate the application of these rules.

            The basic acts composing Title 46 originated in 1937: Chapter 188, "The Washington Highway Licensing Act," and chapter 189, "The Washington Motor Vehicle Act."

            In general, chapter 188, Laws of 1937, is now codified in chapters 46.04, 46.08, 46.12, 46.16, and 46.20 RCW, while chapter 189, Laws of 1937, can be found in chapters 46.32, 46.36, 46.37, 46.40, 46.44, 46.48, 46.52, 46.56, 46.60, and 46.64 RCW.

            It is to be noted that these fifteen chapters do not include chapters 46.24 and 46.28 RCW ‑ the chapters covering financial responsibility.  As a matter of fact, chapter 46.24 RCW was enacted into law in 1939 (chapter 158), and chapter 46.28 RCW in 1949 (chapter 211), as amendatory to the 1939 act.  In other words, chapters 46.24 and 46.28 RCW were not among the basic acts of the motor vehicle code as originally enacted, and when enacted were acts complete in themselves.

            Furthermore, chapter 158, Laws of 1939 (chapter 46.24 RCW.  The Financial Responsibility Act), contains its own definitions which govern its application (of §§ 2-6 of the act).  Section 4 therein contains the definitions of (a) "vehicle," and (b) "motor vehicle."  The definition of "vehicle" in § 4 is identical with the definition in RCW 46.04.670, and for this reason the codifier apparently omitted it from RCW 46.24.010, although it was retained and included in RRS Supp. 6600-104.  The codifier, however, retained the definition of "motor vehicle" in RCW 46.24.010, which, as contained in § 4 (b), reads as hereinbefore set out.

            In 1939, at the time of the adoption of chapter 158, Laws of 1939, ‑ Uniform Motor Vehicle Safety Responsibility Act ‑ "motor vehicle" was defined (§ 1 (p), chapter 188, Laws of 1937, and § 1 (dd), chapter 189, Laws of 1937) in the following manner:

            "'Motor vehicle.'  Every vehicle, as herein defined, which is in itself a self-propelled unit."

            Certainly it is not to be presumed that the definition of a motor vehicle in § 4 (b),supra (RCW 46.24.010), merely because it is a later enactment,  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] was intended to amend the definition contained in the two chapters of the Laws of 1937.  Unquestionably the two definitions are independent and unrelated, and the amendment to one did not in any way affect the other.  Consequently, the definition of a motor vehicle contained in RCW 46.04.320 (1955 Supp.) has no application to chapters 46.24 and 46.28 RCW.

            Therefore, the definition of a motor vehicle as contained in that act (§ 4 (b), chapter 158, Laws of 1939, RRS Supp. 6600-104) and from which RCW 46.24.010 is derived, governs the application of the financial responsibility acts and includes motorcycles and farm tractors.  In other words, the financial responsibility statutes (chapters 46.24 and 46.28 RCW) apply to motor vehicles as defined in RCW 46.24.010 and are not in any way affected by the definition in RCW 46.04.320 (1955 Supp.).

            In passing we might point out that, as now defined in chapter 46.04 RCW, a motorcycle is a motor vehicle (RCW 46.04.330), which is not a motor vehicle, since a motor vehicle is a vehicle, "except a motorcycle."  (RCW 46.04.320 (1955 Supp.).)  We pass no opinion on this anomaly in the present state of our statutes on the problem, other than to say that unquestionably a motorcycle is still a vehicle (RCW 46.04.671).

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General