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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Driving gray areas persist

The categories of emails I receive are quite varied.  Some of those reader inquiries have definitive answers, whereas others give rise to “grayer” discussions.

An inquiry representing that latter group came from reader J.S., asking, “Who is responsible for cleaning up the vehicle debris from an accident?”  He is a bit forlorn at the typical field of glass and auto parts left for drivers to navigate after a wreck.

From my research, I can find no published law governing that task for our region.  The closest applicable Washington law addressing it is RCW 46.52.420, which reads:   A law enforcement officer or representative of the department of transportation may cause a motor vehicle, cargo, or debris to be moved from the roadway; and neither the department of transportation representative, nor anyone acting under the direction of the officer or the department of transportation representative is liable for damage to the motor vehicle, cargo, or debris caused by reasonable efforts of removal.

That passage, like many appearing in our litigious society, simply absolves police or others from liability arising from debris removal.

Generally, however, Internet debate and opinion on the topic points to tow truck drivers as the guardians of post-collision cleanup.  I have seen them, police officers, and even the vehicle drivers themselves attend to the messy aftermath.  Most tow truck operators have brooms, dustpans and garbage buckets on board, so there seems to be at least some acceptance of responsibility by them.

If the vehicles are not disabled, and no tow truck is required, then I suspect either the police or a city/county road crew summoned by the police might perform the chore.  I have personally undertaken broom and dustpan work at an intersection near my home where glass has occasionally remained after a crash.

If anyone knows of any legislation or unwritten “law” specifying cleanup responsibility, please let me know.  I expect that police officers and tow truck drivers have opinions to share about the subject.

D.C. broached another controversial topic, writing, “I was wondering if you could revisit people driving around with their fog lights on all the time. It seems to me that there is a lot more fog lights on than just a few years ago. I think it is a lot of unnecessary glare and not needed. Is it even legal?”

As D.C. implied, I’ve written of this driver habit before.  Again, I can find no local law forbidding their constant use, but I believe common sense would suggest that “fog” lights are for fog.  And even in the fog, it would be prudent to shut them down for oncoming traffic. 

Yes, I know that fog lights are designed to broadcast low, horizontal beams of light that should not blind drivers facing them.  Still, they can appear very bright, and, since they don’t have the adjustable aiming mechanisms of headlamps, are often aimed in unwanted directions including toward oncoming traffic.  Some fog lights, at times called “auxiliary lighting,” are consumer installed with no regard for position or aim.

There are Washington laws regulating vehicle lighting, and they do state that fog lamps are to be used for conditions of “rain, snow, dust, or fog.”  Headlight dimming is required within 500 feet for oncoming cars and 300 feet when behind them.  Dimming requirements are not specified for fog lights, but full-time use is certainly not warranted.

Readers may contact Bill Love via email at