Q: Is it legal to drive with your disabled-person parking placard hanging from the rear-view mirror? — Pat G., Tacoma
A: It was not idle curiosity that drove Pat to contact us here at Traffic Q&A headquarters.
A run-in with a security guard working at a local parking lot put her on the defensive.
Let us let her tell it:
“I have a handicap placard, and I had it in my window for parking. I was told it was illegal to drive with that placard actually hanging from your rear-view mirror, that you can be fined for it.”
Then she uttered those nine words every traffic columnist loves to hear: “Can you research that, please, and report on it?”
RCW 46.37.410, titled, “Windshields required, exception — Must be unobstructed and equipped with wipers,” deals with Pat’s issue.
Subsection 2 contains the pertinent language:
“No person shall drive any motor vehicle with any sign, poster or other nontransparent material upon the front windshield, side wings, or side or rear windows of such vehicle which obstructs the driver’s clear view of the highway or any intersecting highway.”
Not the slam-dunk ruling we’d hoped for, frankly. Leaves a little open to interpretation. Like, does a placard count as “nontransparent material”?
So we went to Tacoma police spokeswoman Loretta Cool for guidance.
Is it illegal, officer Cool, to drive with a disabled-person parking placard hanging from the rear-view mirror? Or fuzzy dice? Or those tree-shaped air fresheners?
“Only if it is a visual obstruction,” she replied.
How, we pressed, does an officer determine whether that’s the case?
“By observing the driving behavior. If a driver swerves or does not appear to see things as they drive down the road, as demonstrated by poor driving, a stop is made. If there is an obstruction or the driver says they could not see around the obstruction, they can be cited and they need to move the obstruction.”
Cool went on.
“If it happens to be cracked glass, (an officer) can have the car towed, since the obstruction cannot be moved and the car is not driveable.”
She then offered some timely seasonal advice:
“Another obstruction is window fog or ice. Sometimes we see poor driving, stop the car and walk up and realize the driver is looking through a 4-inch-by-4-inch spot that has cleared.
“The glass needs to be clear to drive. If the obstruction does not allow safe driving and it is observed by an officer, a stop can be make and citation issued.”
So Pat, if you can drive fine with your placard in place, you seem to be safe from citation.
Of course, there’s always the better-safe-than-sorry route, which is what was suggested by the state Department of Licensing some years back on its “Disabled Person Parking Privileges Organization Application.”
“To insure that your view is not obstructed, remove the placard from the rear view mirror PRIOR to operating the vehicle,” the department admonished.
The careful reader will recall that last week we wrote about TURNING LEFT ON RED!
But in the course of that column, we failed to answer a question from George S. about whether a driver can legally turn left on red from a two-way street onto a freeway on-ramp.
Several of you wrote in to say the TNT had answered that very question in a column published in 2006, which ran under the headline, “Left turn on red OK on one-way.”
Here’s the pertinent verbiage from that article, penned by another scribe, regarding on-ramps:
“Unlike downtown Seattle, there are not many places in Tacoma to take advantage of this. The most common place would be on most on-ramps to the freeway … The State Patrol considers on-ramps to be one-way lanes, unless the exit ramp is right next to the on-ramp.”
Because a decade has passed since that advice was dispensed, we sought a more contemporary opinion from Sgt. James Prouty of the aforementioned Washington State Patrol.
Prouty was more circumspect.
“On-ramps are not considered one-way streets,” he said. “It’s a different animal because it is part of a limited-access freeway.”
Still, Prouty admitted, a left on red could be conceivable at an on-ramp.
“It has to be posted as a one-way street,” he said. “Then it would be authorized.”
We now have the immortal words of The Clash rattling around in our heads: “Should I stay or should I go?”
Yeah, we’ll just wait for that soothing green of the traffic light.