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Dangerous Activities or Conditions

This page provides examples of how local governments in Washington State regulate potentially dangerous activities or conditions, including model airplanes, hot air balloons and ultralights, attractive nuisances, and laser pointers.

Aircraft and Other Airborne Devices

Generally, the landing of pleasure aircraft such as hot air balloons, ultralights, and similar devices are regulated through zoning. The sample provisions cited in this section relate to prohibitions on landing in public areas.

Unauthorized Landings

Model Airplanes, Remote Controlled Airplanes

To keep model airplanes from becoming nuisances, many local governments have designated areas in parks for their use and provide regulations governing where and how they may be flown. In addition to sample local government regulations, see also regulations relating to remote controlled airplane use in state parks in WAC-352-130(4).

  • Bothell Municipal Code Sec. 8.60.330 - Model Aircraft, Rockets and Vehicles (Parks)
  • Seattle Municipal Code Sec. 18.12.265 - Motorized Models (Parks Code)
  • Union Gap Municipal Code Ch. 10.05 - Model Radio Controlled Aircraft (Parks)

Balloons (Hand Held)

MRSC has received a few inquiries over the years regarding the release of small lighter-than-air balloons or groups of balloons. The nuisance issue is principally an environmental one. In addition to causing a litter problem when they descend, the balloons are considered injurious when ingested by wildlife and marine animals. Arguments from the balloon industry say they are safe, biodegradable, and friendly to the environment. Other issues relate to interference with aviation and balloons in utility wires. Metallic balloons are highly conductive and can create power outages. Regulation of balloon releases was considered by the legislature in 1991, but the proposed legislation failed to pass. At the time of this writing, we have not found any local government regulatory provisions in Washington, but regulatory provisions do exist in other states; for example, California Penal Code provision, Title 15 Ch. 2, Sec. 653.1 (scroll down) regulating balloons constructed of electrically conductive material.

  • The Balloon Council - An organization of retailers, distributors, and manufacturers, formed in 1990 to educate consumers and regulators about the wonders of metallic and latex balloons and the proper handling of them.
  • International Balloon Association - A non-profit trade association for distributors and manufacturers of balloons and balloon accessories and other support products found in the balloon industry, as well as balloon decorators, retailers, and entertainers
  • Olympia Resolution No. M-1517, A resolution about the potential hazards to animals and the environment from non -biodegradable balloons, passed 06/17/2003

Attractive Nuisances

Most county and city codes include a provision pertaining to attractive nuisances in their list of designated nuisances to protect children from injury or death by removing conditions that attract them. The most frequently cited is abandoned refrigerators. Provisions relating to allowing an abandoned refrigerator to remain in any place accessible to children without having the door removed or the latch mechanism removed are codified in Ch. 9.03 RCW, "Abandoned Refrigeration Equipment." Others include vacant property and building sites not properly secured, and the accumulation of various junk which might be attractive to children for areas of play.

Historical Note on Attractive Nuisances

The first Washington case in which the attractive nuisance doctrine was involved was in 1890, Ilwaco Ry. & Nav. Co. v. Hedrick, 1 Wash. 446 (1890). An action was taken against a railway company for the death of a child, caused by negligence of the company in leaving a turn-table unfastened. It was shown that the agent knew children were attracted to the machine and were in the habit of playing on it and that the method of securing it had in the past proved insufficient. The Washington Supreme Court slowly evolved the limits of the attractive nuisance doctrine and in a 1940 case, Schock v. Ringling Bros., 5 Wn 2d 599 (1940), the court listed five elements that must be present to make the "attractive nuisance" doctrine applicable to a given case. (1) The instrumentality or condition must be dangerous in itself, that is, it must be an agency which is likely to, or probably will, result in injury to those attracted by, and coming in contact with, it; (2) it must be attractive and alluring, or enticing, to young children; (3) the children must have been incapable, by reason of their youth, of comprehending the danger involved; (4) the instrumentality or condition must have been left unguarded and exposed at a place where children of tender years are accustomed to resort, or where it is reasonably to be expected that they will resort, for play or amusement, or for the gratification of youthful curiosity; and (5) it must have been reasonably practicable and feasible either to prevent access to the instrumentality of condition, or else to render it innocuous, without obstructing any reasonable purpose or use for which it was intended. From The Attractive Nuisances Doctrine in Washington, L.R. Bonneville, Jr., Washington Law Review, vol.22 (February 1947).

The doctrine of attractive nuisance has not changed radically over the years. Two more recent cases are: Ochampaugh v. Seattle, 91 Wn.2d 514 (1979), and Schneider v. Seattle, 24 Wn. App. 251 (1979).

Iceboxes, Refrigerators, and Other Appliances

  • Auburn Municipal Code Sec. 8.12.040 - Attractive Nuisances
  • Edmonds Municipal Code Sec. 6.20.042(B) - Health and safety nuisances - Attractive nuisance dangerous to children
  • Tacoma Municipal Code Ch. 8.02 - Abandoned Iceboxes

Laser Pointers

Some local governments regulate the possession and use of laser pointers by minors. The hand held laser pointers are used by lecturers to highlight areas on a chart or screen. In the hands of pranksters they have been also used to flash on movie screens, annoy people at malls and sporting events, flash at airplanes, and, of greater concern, flash them in people's eyes. Safety professionals are especially concerned about secondary effects, such as the eyes' aversion to the glare, experienced during critical activities such as while in control of a motor vehicle.

The Washington Legislature enacted Ch. 9A.49 RCW (Laws of 1999, ch. 180) relating to the unlawful discharge of lasers. The legislation created the crimes of unlawful discharge of a laser in the first and second degree when a person knowingly and maliciously discharges a laser at law enforcement personnel, pilots, fire personnel, or persons operating buses. It also makes these crimes a civil infraction for juveniles who have never before committed either offense.

The American Laser Institutes' Laser Pointer Safety page provides factual information on the topic. The Laser Institute of America is the publisher and secretariat for the ANSI Z136 standards on laser safety and is the principal in a media education effort about using lasers wisely.

Novelty Lighters

Rock Throwing

  • Fircrest Municipal Code Sec. 10.12.050 - Parks and Playgrounds - Weapons Prohibited - Includes rock throwing
  • Tacoma Municipal Code Sec. 8.44.056 - Throwing of Rocks

Unguarded Excavations, Wells, Pits, Mine Shafts


Last Modified: December 20, 2016