Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1958 No. 170 -
Attorney General John J. O'Connell



A person who has been convicted of, or forfeited bail for, operating a motor vehicle without a license cannot obtain a license to operate a motor vehicle during a three‑year period following such offense, unless he furnishes proof of financial responsibility during such period.

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                                                                   March 7, 1958

Honorable Louise S. Taylor
Department of Licenses
General Administration Building
Olympia, Washington                                                                                  Cite as:  AGO 57-58 No. 170

Attention:  !ttA. C. Bertocchini, Administrator
                         Financial Responsibility Division

Dear Mrs. Taylor:

            You have asked the opinion of this office on the following question:

            Is a person who has been convicted of, or forfeited bail for, operating a motor vehicle without being licensed so to do, required to give proof of financial responsibility before he can thereafter obtain an operator's license?

            We answer your question in the affirmative.


            Your question is of first impression in this state.  It involves an interpretation of RCW 46.24.040, which, in so far as applicable to your question, provides:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "The operator's license shall remain suspended and shall not at any time thereafter be renewed, nor shall any such license be thereafter issued to such person,including a person not previously licensed, who by final order or judgmenthas been convicted of, pleaded guilty to,or forfeited bail. . . for trial of . . . any such offense orfor operating a motor vehicle upon the public highwayswithout being licensed to do so, until he gives proof of his ability to respond in damages for any liability thereafter incurred . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            The offenses referred to in this section are those mentioned in RCW 46.24.030 requiring mandatory suspension (or revocation).  (Cf. RCW 46.20.250; 46.20.260; 46.56.010; 46.52.020.)  The section then adds "or for operating a motor vehicle . . . without being licensed to do so."

            Although operating a motor vehicle without a license is not such an offense for which the suspension of the driving privilege is required by other statutes (cf. RCW 46.20.020 and 46.20.270; AGO 53-55 No. 360 [[to James Pryde, Washington State Patrol on December 13, 1954]]; 42 AGO 229 [[1941-42 OAG 229 to B. G. Warner, Prosecuting Attorney, King County on September 11, 1942]]), this section clearly seems to require that where a person is convicted of operating a motor vehicle without being licensed so to do, he is in the same position as a person who has had his license suspended or revoked in so far as obtaining a license is concerned; that is, he must first furnish proof of financial responsibility under RCW chapter 46.24.

            The courts have quite generally held that a license to operate a motor vehicle is a privilege granted by the state, and that in accepting such license one must also accept all reasonable conditions imposed by the state in granting the license.  DeVries v. Secretary of State (Mich.), 44 N.W. (2d) 872.  The state, in the exercise of its police power, could constitutionally have required deposit of security by the owners of all vehicles as a condition to licensing them.  In re Opinion of Justices (Mass.), 147 N.E. 681.  On the other hand, the state could choose to allow financially irresponsible licensed operators to drive until they become involved in an accident before suspending their licenses for failure to provide financial responsibility.  Escobedo v. State Department of Motor Vehicles (Cal.), 222 P. (2d) 1.  The state likewise can require such proof following suspension or revocation of the license of a person convicted of a violation of the motor vehicle code as a condition to his relicensing.  Prichard v. Battle (Va.), 17 S.E. (2d) 393; People v. O'Rourke (Cal.), 13 P. (2d) 989; Surtman v. Secretary of State (Mich.), 15 N.W. (2d) 471.  Also, see 5A Am.Jur. 333, Automobiles and Highway Traffic, § 152, and Rawson v. Dept. of Licenses (1942), 15 Wn. (2d) 364.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            If an individual is required to furnish proof of financial responsibility before being able to obtain a license and such a requirement is constitutional(In re Opinion of Justices, supra), we can see no valid reason why it cannot be imposed as a condition to obtaining such a license following a conviction, or bail forfeiture, for operating a motor vehicle without a license.  We assume that the legislature has seen fit to require a person who has violated the provisions of the motor vehicle code, by failing to obtain a license before driving, to show that he will be financially responsible before he can secure such a privilege thereafter.

            Consequently, we conclude that under RCW 46.24.030, proof of financial responsibility before issuance of an operator's license is required where the person has been convicted of, or forfeited bail for, the operation of a motor vehicle without a license.  Such proof is required for a period of three years, and unless furnished no license can be obtained during that period.  (RCW 46.24.150)

            We trust that this information will be helpful in the handling of such matters.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General