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5 Laws You Need to Know as a Driver in Washington

Seattle roads

Anytime you get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, you have certain responsibilities that you should be familiar with. Each state has its own variation of traffic laws, and with more than 5.5 million licensed drivers in the state of Washington, it’s critical that everyone understands what rules they must follow behind the wheel. Below, we review five laws that you should be aware of when driving in the state.

You Must Stay at the Scene of a Crash.

If you are involved in a car accident in the state of Washington, you have certain duties that are outlined in Washington State Legislature Sections 46.45.010 and 46.45.020. Specifically, these laws require you to stop after an accident, locate and/or notify the owner of the damaged property, render aid to any injured people, and remain at the scene until these duties are fulfilled.

This may include calling 9-1-1 to report the accident and exchanging personal information with the other driver, including one’s name, contact information, address, insurance information, and vehicle information. Failure to fulfill these legal obligations, also known as “fleeing the scene,” would be considered a hit and run and may result in a criminal charge and legal ramifications.

Distracted Driving Is Prohibited.

Like many other states, Washington has enacted legislation in order to deter distracted driving and prevent accidents. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal that about eight people in the U.S. are killed in accidents that are reported to involve a distracted driver; thousands more are injured in these crashes.

According to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, it is illegal to hold your cellphone in your hand while you are driving, stopped at a red light, or stopped in traffic. You can use your cellphone if it is a hands-free device, if you are parked or out of the flow of traffic, or contacting emergency services.

Car Insurance Is a Legal Requirement.

Having proper coverage not only protects you but is a legal requirement if you are a driver in the state of Washington. According to the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner, state law requires any vehicle driver or motorcycle operator to carry a minimum of bodily injury protection, which covers any injuries and related damages that are the result of an accident that the insured person causes. At minimum, the coverage must include liability limits of:

  • $25,000 for injuries or death to another person
  • $50,000 for injuries or death to all other people
  • $10,000 for damage to another person's property

You must always carry proof of insurance with you. While it’s not recommended, you may choose to opt out of the state’s insurance requirements by either 1.) giving a certificate of deposit (CD) to the Department of Licensing for $60,000 or 2.) setting up a surety bond of $60,000.

Young Children Must Be in Car Seats or Booster Seats.

Ensuring your child is in the right-fitting car seat or booster seat can maximize their safety and ensure that you are abiding by the state’s child restraint laws. Statistics from the CDC show that car seat use reduces the risk for injury in a crash by 71-82% for children, when compared with seat belt use alone, while booster seat use reduces the risk for serious injury by 45% for children aged four to eight years of age, when compared with seat belt use alone.

To be in accordance with Washington State Legislature Section 46.37.510, all children under the age of 16 must be equipped with a safety belt system when transported in a motor vehicle. Additionally, drivers must ensure that all younger children are restrained in the following ways:

  • Children below two years of age must be properly secured in a rear-facing restraint system, until the child outgrows the height and weight limit set by the manufacturer and by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  • Children two to four years of age must be restrained in a car seat with a harness; it can be either rear- or forward-facing, depending on the child’s height and weight.
  • Children four years of age or older and who are under 4’9” should be secured in a car or booster seat, which should be used until the shoulder seat belt fits the child correctly.
  • Children under 13 years of age should be secured in the back seat when practical.

You Must Have Your Headlights On During Certain Hours.

According to the Washington State Department of Licensing, drivers in the state must have their vehicle’s headlights turned on at least 30 minutes after sunset and until 30 minutes before sunrise. Additionally, the law requires headlights to be turned on when conditions make it difficult to see other vehicles or people, such as during cloudy or rainy days.

If there are no oncoming vehicles, you should also use your high beams, which allow you to see twice as far as headlights. It is important to use high beams on unfamiliar roads, in construction areas, or where there may be people on the side of the road. Ensure that you dim your head beams if there is an oncoming vehicle within 500 feet of you, or you are following a vehicle within 300 feet of you.

Injured in an Accident? We’re Here for You

At Kornfeld Law, we know from experience that even the safest drivers who follow all the rules of the road can still be injured in accidents caused by other negligent, reckless, or dangerous drivers. If you are ever in this situation, please know that we are here to fight for your recovery and carry the legal burden for you every step of the way.

Injured in a car crash? Contact our Seattle car accident attorneys at (425) 657-5255 to get started with a no-fee, no-obligation consultation! Whether you are in the hospital or at home healing, we are available to meet at a location that is most convenient for you.