Rules of the Road

Ever stuffed a car so full of stuff or people you couldn’t see? You broke the law

It is not only illegal, but also dangerous, to load any vehicle so full of stuff, people or pets that your view is obstructed, according to Washington state law.
It is not only illegal, but also dangerous, to load any vehicle so full of stuff, people or pets that your view is obstructed, according to Washington state law. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Question: Is it illegal to obstruct the view of the driver out the side windows? On my bicycle, I have been nearly hit more than once by mail delivery drivers. They drive on the right side of their trucks and stack mail on a shelf opposite them blocking their view out the left window. When they are making a right turn, they can’t see me on my bike and pull out in front of me. If not illegal it’s dangerous.

Answer: It is dangerous, and it’s not just postal carriers or delivery drivers who are guilty of it.

Students are converging on Western Washington University, and college students are arriving with all their personal possessions crammed into a mid-’90s compact sedan.

There are a lot of reasons (none of them good) why people over-fill their vehicles and obstruct their view.

In addition to the aforementioned delivery drivers and over-packed college students, I’ve seen a car crammed with so many helium balloons that there was barely room for the driver; I’ve seen a car with several large dogs hyperactively trading positions, somehow making sure that they were always blocking the driver’s view; I’ve seen people thread themselves into a car with stacks of Ikea furniture filling the car and sticking out the windows.

The other day I saw a driver surrounded by so many white blankets that it looked like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man exploded in her car.

Whatever the reason, if you can’t see other road users, it’s a violation of the law.

Washington has a law titled, appropriately, “Obstructions to the driver’s view or driving mechanism.” As you might expect from that title, it prohibits driving a vehicle when it is loaded such that the driver’s view out the front or sides of the vehicle is obstructed. It includes over-filling your car with passengers to the point where they block your view. Also, even if you can see properly, the law prohibits loading your vehicle (or having so many passengers) that it interferes with your ability to drive.

This law isn’t just for the driver either. Passengers can violate the law by blocking the driver’s view or meddling with the driver’s control of the car.

Unlike many of the laws we discuss in this column, there are no exceptions. The law doesn’t lay out any scenario when it’s okay to block your view while driving.

For those of you that work in delivery services, I’m aware that there is pressure to be as efficient as possible, even if that means over-filling a vehicle to reduce the number of return trips to home base.

As soon as those packages obscure your view, you’ve violated the law.

It’s worthwhile to note that in distracted driving crashes, when an employer has encouraged or even just allowed phone use while driving, the company has been held liable for employee-involved crashes. I suspect if an employer encourages (or even just tolerates) a driver who packs a vehicle to the point where view is obstructed, courts could find the employer similarly liable.

Liability aside, what we really want is for everyone to get where they’re going safely.

We’re seeing a shift in attitudes towards drivers who are on their phones, because we know that distraction impairs your vision.

Admit it; many of you now silently look with disdain when you see another person using their phone while driving. Anything that takes our eyes or our attention off the road increases the risk of a crash.

If your vehicle is so loaded that you can’t see out the window, you can’t possibly pay attention to the other road users just beyond your window.

Circling back to students, as of this week we have pre-schoolers to grad students back in class. And this week our local law enforcement agencies will be conducting extra patrols as a way to encourage safe driving on routes to schools. You can see the encouragement in a video with some neighborhood kids in the latest post at TheWiseDrive.com.

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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