Rules of the Road

You’ve returned to your car to find a ticket under the wiper; how you going to beat it?

Mistakes happen, even on parking tickets. The only reliable way to win in court, or avoid a ticket in the first place is to not commit a violation.
Mistakes happen, even on parking tickets. The only reliable way to win in court, or avoid a ticket in the first place is to not commit a violation. McClatchy

Question: I received a parking ticket on a private road, at an address that does not exist. Is this arguable before a judge?

Answer: We are fortunate to have a justice system that allows us to appeal our case to a judge, so technically, yes, you could argue before a judge if you so choose.

I think though, the real question is, “Could I beat this ticket in court?” On that question you have reason to be less optimistic. We’ll deal with this question in two parts; first the private road issue, and then the non-existent address.

The rules about where traffic laws apply vary from state to state, and in Washington, most traffic laws apply only to public highways.

The chapter of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) that deals with traffic begins by stating that “The provisions of this chapter relating to the operation of vehicles refer exclusively to the operation of vehicles upon highways . . .” But then it adds, “except:” It follows with some specific exceptions, which are primarily serious traffic crimes like impaired driving, reckless driving, vehicular homicide and hit-and-run.

The law also includes this exception: “Where a different place is specifically referred to in a given section.”

A common example of that exception would be disabled parking. In a private parking lot with designated disabled parking spots, law enforcement officers can issue tickets to drivers who violate the disabled parking law.

There are a few other parking violations listed in the RCW “where a different place is specifically referred.” These include parking on a sidewalk, parking in front of a fire hydrant, parking in front of a driveway and parking on railroad tracks. Yeah, that last one is really in there. I think you’d only leave your car on the railroad tracks once before you learn that lesson.

I don’t know the specifics of the situation posed by the question, so I’ll toss out a few other scenarios where a parking ticket may be issued on a private road.

A university police officer could enforce parking violations on campus streets, which are sometimes private. I’ve been assuming that the ticket was issued by a police officer, but I might be wrong about that.

A neighborhood association could hire private security to patrol private streets within the neighborhood and issue parking tickets. In this case you’d appeal your ticket to the association. Some neighborhood associations even hire a local judge to oversee their hearings.

While traffic enforcement is uncommon on private roads, those are a few situations where you could get a parking ticket.

Now for the part that most of the internet gets wrong: errors on traffic tickets.

You can find lots of bad advice recommending that you should fight all errors on a traffic ticket, claiming that if the officer spelled your name wrong or wrote down the wrong address, the judge has to throw out the ticket. That’s just not true. At least most of the time.

There are a couple types of errors you might find on a traffic ticket. The most common would be clerical mistakes, commonly called typos. (Do you still call them typos if it is handwritten?)

In the situation described in the original question, the address on the ticket apparently doesn’t exist. Officers commonly don’t specify an exact address on a ticket, so it’s possible that if you parked, for example, in front of 7423 Main Street, the ticket shows “7400 blk Main.” Or maybe the officer wrote an actual address but mixed up a couple numbers, instead writing “7243 Main Street.” Either way, it doesn’t get you off the hook.

If you contest the ticket based on an incorrect address, the court will likely amend the ticket to correct it and ask how you plead to parking illegally in the corrected location.

The same goes with other errors, such as a misspelled name. If your name is “Aimee Olsen” and the officer writes “Amy Olson” you won’t get a free pass.

However, if the officer makes an error of judgment that’s a different story. If you come back to a parked car with a ticket on the windshield that lists the offense as “embracing while driving,” or if your name is “Aimee Olsen” and the officer writes “Inigo Montoya” and puts your city of residence as Florin, or you were parked at 7423 Main Street and the officer describes your parking location as “Right next to Neil Armstrong’s flag, on the moon,” you have a much stronger case.

Also, if the officer wrote either of the last two examples I listed on your ticket, you need to make a copy and share it, because I think everyone would love to see that.

Mistakes happen, even on parking tickets. Most of them won’t get your ticket thrown out. The only reliable way to win in court, or avoid a ticket in the first place is to not commit a violation.

Road Rules is a regular column on road laws, safe driving habits and general police practices. Doug Dahl is the Target Zero Manager for the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force. Target Zero is Washington’s vision to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries to zero by 2030. For more traffic safety information visit Ask a question.