Rules of the Road

The check’s in the mail, but your neighbor parked in front of your box – is it legal?

U.S. mail carrier Keith Koenig delivers the mail to a cluster of mailboxes near Gate 2 in Sudden Valley in 2008. In Whatcom County, Bellingham and Blaine include sections in their municipal codes that prohibit parking in front of mailboxes, and Ferndale may soon pass one. But the Revised Code of Washington makes no mention of it.
U.S. mail carrier Keith Koenig delivers the mail to a cluster of mailboxes near Gate 2 in Sudden Valley in 2008. In Whatcom County, Bellingham and Blaine include sections in their municipal codes that prohibit parking in front of mailboxes, and Ferndale may soon pass one. But the Revised Code of Washington makes no mention of it. Bellingham Herald file

Question: Is it legal to park in front of a mailbox? My neighbor keeps parking in front of mine, and I’m missing mail deliveries. Asking him to park somewhere else hasn’t worked, because there is a shortage of parking spaces in the neighborhood, so I’m hoping there is a law that can be enforced.

Answer: Reading through the traffic section of the Revised Code of Washington will provide you with a lot of places you can’t park. In one section alone it lists about 20 no-parking areas. And that list doesn’t include the limits on disabled parking, recreational areas, college campuses and several other sections on parking.

Remarkably, none of the lists include anything about parking in front of mailboxes.

However, depending on which city you live in, a local ordinance may prohibit parking in front of a mailbox.

I have a vague recollection from my high school government class that there are some rules about what kinds of local laws a city can pass, and clearly, parking laws are allowed. Many cities in Washington have parking limitations in addition to what you’ll find in the state law.

In Whatcom County, Bellingham and Blaine include sections in their municipal codes that prohibit parking in front of mailboxes.

What about federal rules? It seems like if it’s a federal offense to drop a party invitation in your neighbor’s mailbox without putting a stamp on it, there must be some rules about parking in front of mailboxes.

In a sense, there are some rules, but they don’t prohibit parking. Instead, the U.S. Postal Service manual on Recipient Services and the Postal Operations Manual put the responsibility on the customer. Given that the USPS isn’t in the business of parking enforcement, that makes sense.

According to the USPS, “The customer is responsible for keeping the approach to the mailbox clear to facilitate delivery.” This responsibility includes weather-related issues, such as snow as well as parked cars.

For curbside mailboxes, the mail carrier should be able to deliver the mail without leaving the vehicle. The operations manual does note that a mail carrier will normally get out of the vehicle to deliver mail for a temporary obstruction, but not for repeated obstructions.

Let’s get back to that quote from the operations manual about customer responsibility.

It’s pretty easy to avoid parking your own vehicle in front of your own mailbox. But we don’t have much control over where other people park. There are no federal or state laws prohibiting parking in front of a mailbox, so without a local ordinance, the mail customer is caught in a bind; you can’t rely on a law to make your neighbor move the car, and you can’t move it yourself.

It seems like your most reasonable options would be to ask your neighbor to park somewhere else (which you’ve already tried without success) or ask the city to enact an ordinance prohibiting parking in front of mailboxes (which will take some time, during which you will continue to have undelivered mail).

Since I can’t offer you a great solution, would it help to tell you you’re not alone? I’ve heard that the post office in Ferndale receives 50 to 60 complaints per month about vehicles parked in front of mailboxes. But that could soon be changing.

I just got an email from Ferndale mayor Jon Mutchler letting me know that they're adding an ordinance prohibiting parking in front of mailboxes. Here's what he said:”We will send this (ordinance) to committee next (Wednesday), and it will be on the council (regular) agenda for Monday night, April 16 and become law shortly after, if all goes according to plan.”

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 TheWiseDrive.com. Ask a question.

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