Unlighted traffic patrol draws reader question

The in basket: Clifford Floathe wants to know whether police can patrol on the shoulder of the highway in the dark with no lights on.

“As I recall when I was younger,” he began, “it was the law if you pulled over along a highway at night time, you had to leave some form of lights on, whether it be parking lights, emergency flashers, or even a dome light.

“On my way to work last week,” he wrote in October, ” I noticed a state trooper on

more than one occasion with all his lights off along the median close to the Eldorado overpass on Highway 3 southbound. To me this poses a safety hazard.

“I read the (Road Warrior column in October) about the new

LED emergency lights being too bright for some people but how about no lights whatsoever? I realize the trooper is trying to catch people speeding for our safety but is this the right way to make us citizens safer?”

The out basket: State Trooper Russ Winger says there is no express prohibition of enforcing traffic laws on the shoulder of a highway in the dark with no lights on the patrol car. But as commenter Sassy notes below, citing a 2007 item from the Seattle P-I, one judge was persuaded to dismiss a ticket on the grounds that the citing State Trooper shouldn’t have had his lights out as he did speed enforcement. The item doesn’t say what court that was in but does call the argument “novel.”

The law does specifically allow police to do some other things the driving public can’t, including making many turns, exceeding the speed limit or stopping where it is otherwise prohibited.

“That said,” Russ  continued, “WSP troopers understand that the provisions that exempt emergency vehicles from certain rules of the road do not relieve the operator’s duty to use due regard and common sense. In addition, these same provisions do not protect the operator from the consequences of any reckless disregard for the safety of others.

“Troopers are expected to balance the overall safety of the public with the reality and requirements of working in a dangerous setting while trying to accomplish a particular job, such as working speed enforcement.

“I think the WSP has a pretty good track record in regards to this balancing act.”

He said Clifford is correct about a legal requirement that drivers who must leave a car on the shoulder at night lighted in some fashion. “However, in many disabled situations there may be no battery power to sustain the lights for long.

“The law does require that a motorist make arrangements for ‘prompt removal’ of the vehicle,'” he said. “On the highways, we usually give 24 hours to remove the vehicle, assuming it is safely off of the roadway, not in a dangerous area with sight distance problems or not in a mandatory tow zone,” Russ said.


3 thoughts on “Unlighted traffic patrol draws reader question

  1. Read the article. In no way does it conclude that the local judge dismissed the ticket based on a unlighted patrol car. It states, that the infraction judge found that “the State did not prove beyond a preponderance” that the defendant committed the infraction. And apparently neither the defendant or the court provided information to the contrary for this “article” from some six years ago. It is also clear from the article that the Washington State Patrol disagreed with the ruling and intends on business as usual.

  2. More Ambush Revenue, er , Enforcement from WSP. If this was all about safety (and they say it is) then all units assigned to traffic enforcement would be completely marked, and properly lit at all times as as a reminder to follow the rules, but for some reason 😉 WSP sits in dark unmarked cars on the side of the roadway.

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