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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Washington Code clarified

Nowadays, our actions are more scrutinized than ever and we are held accountable to an ever-growing list of rules and regulations.  As individual and vehicle populations soar, intensified enforcement is inevitable, especially as it applies to driving.

Consequently, it’s prudent to be aware of RCWs (Revised Codes of Washington) or your state’s rules of the road as they are officially laid out.

We must comply with speed regulations and simultaneously avoid their close cousins — negligent and reckless driving — or face major consequences.  The Washington Administrative Code states these basics:  Unless otherwise posted, the speed limit is 60 mph on Washington highways, 50mph on county roads, and 25 mph on city or town streets.  60 mph is the maximum speed for vehicles weighing over 10,000 pounds, and vehicles with solid rubber tires (usually farm) may not exceed 10 mph.

The Secretary of Transportation can amend those basics by posting higher or lower speeds based on safety.  Speaking of safety, officers can impose a “too fast for conditions” citation irrespective of posted limits if weather is adverse or traffic is dense.  So at times, you can still be ticketed for travelling at or even below the limit. 

And don’t forget — if you are in the left lane of a multi-lane roadway and not overtaking a vehicle in the right-hand lane, about to turn left, or moving left to allow a merge from the right, you are subject to a citation regardless of your speed.

An officer may also determine that an act of speed is negligent or reckless.  Racing, for example is automatically deemed reckless driving.  Negligent driving in the second degree is defined in the WAC as, “Operating a motor vehicle in a manner that is both negligent and endangers or is likely to endanger any person or property.”  You may be slapped with first degree “neg” if you commit the above, and per the RCW are additionally, “exhibiting the effects of having consumed alcohol or an illegal drug.”

The penalty for neg driving in the first degree is a maximum of a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail — reckless can bring a year of jail time along with a $5,000 fine.

Just so you know what you will be fighting if you end up in court with a negligent driving charge, the State’s definition of the term “negligent” is, “The failure to exercise ordinary care, and is the doing of some act that a reasonable careful person would not do under the same or similar circumstances or the failure to do something that a reasonably careful person would do under the same or similar circumstances.”  That has a pretty wide-ranging offense potential.

Simple speeding fines range from $125 for 1-5 mph over, up to $423 for faster offenders.   Insurance penalties begin with one infraction, and three offenses within a two-year period are grounds for license revocation.

It’s easy to see why drivers should understand the detailed text within the rules of the road — it comprises the “ammunition” officers have at their disposal to cite offenders.  Depending on the conditions of the driver, vehicle and roadway, there is more to consider than simply staying between the lines and observing the posted speed limit.

It’s hopeful that operating with this knowledge in mind may lessen your chances of seeing one of these RCWs referenced on the face of a citation.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at