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New Traffic Laws and the MTO

August 8, 2013  by  Paul Sullivan
Category:  Traffic Regulation and Enforcement

New Traffic Laws and the MTO

While a county, city, or town can adopt its own traffic code - and some cities have - many cities and towns, and a few counties, have instead adopted the Model Traffic Ordinance ("MTO") to serve as their own.  The MTO is a compilation of state traffic laws, with additional sections specifically related to local government regulation (e.g., parking), that can be used by counties, cities, and towns to enforce traffic laws within their jurisdictions.  Without their own traffic code or the MTO, cities and towns can still enforce state traffic laws, but charges would need to be filed under state law and prosecuted by the county, at city/town expense but without any revenue that would be generated by the collected fines. So, cities and towns, in particular, have an incentive to adopt the MTO.

The MTO is updated periodically, as needed, by the Department of Licensing, after consultation with the state patrol and the state Traffic Safety Commission.  Typically, the changes made will be the addition of new traffic laws or the amendment of existing traffic laws adopted by the state legislature.  The fact that legislature has adopted new traffic laws does not itself mean that cities and towns can prosecute the laws using their own prosecutors and courts and receive the fines that may flow from violations.  Until the MTO is updated, or the city or town adds the new law to its code, prosecutions would need to be handled by the county, but paid for by the city.

Many laws from this past legislative session went into effect July 28, including some traffic provisions.  Amending the MTO is accomplished through adoption of a rule or regulation, requiring notice, a comment period, and final adoption; this process can take some time to accomplish.  To speed the process and allow for earlier local enforcement of the new 2013 traffic laws, the Department of Licensing has adopted an emergency rule, WSR 13-15-067, that puts some of the recent statutory changes into the MTO, effective July  28, 2013.  The rule adds sections dealing with off-road vehicles (discussed in an earlier blog post), parking regulations relating to electrical vehicle charging stations, and prohibitions against license plate fraud, including the prohibition of plate "flipping" devices.  If your city or town has adopted the MTO, your police officers can now charge violations of these new laws under city/town ordinance.

The Department of Licensing will follow up on this emergency rule later with the adoption of a permanent rule.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Paul Sullivan

Paul worked with many local governments and authored numerous MRSC publications on local elections, ordinances, and general local government operations in his many years at MRSC. He is now retired.



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