Question: If you are a passenger in a car that has been pulled over for a traffic violation, are you required to show your ID to the police?
Answer: This is a great question that straddles the line between traffic law and broader constitutional law. And the answer is … it depends. Before we get to the passenger, though, let’s address the driver. According to RCW 46.61.020, during a traffic stop the driver of the car must provide license, registration and proof of insurance to an officer. And for those who have heard that you can keep your window up and press your ID against the glass, I wouldn’t recommend it. It is unlawful for a driver to refuse an officer’s request to take ID for inspection during a traffic stop. Plus, that’s a classic impaired driver move, so it’ll definitely make the officer suspicious.
But what about when an officer asks a passenger for ID? The next section of the RCW states that when an officer requests that a person identify himself or herself pursuant to investigating a traffic infraction, that person must identify himself or herself and provide a current address. I can think of at least a couple scenarios where this could apply:
▪ At the scene of a traffic crash where the officer is gathering witness information.
▪ During a traffic stop when an officer notices that the passenger has committed a traffic infraction such as not wearing a seat belt.
But how about other situations? Can an officer ask a passenger for ID when it appears there is no reason for the request? In the U.S. Court of Appeals case Stufflebeam v. Harris, the court concluded that an officer can request ID from a passenger, but if the officer has no reason to contact the passenger regarding any sort of investigation, the passenger is not required to provide identification.
However, investigation of the initial traffic stop may not be the only reason an officer would ask a passenger for identification. For example, if the passenger matched the description of a wanted person, it seems reasonable that the officer would want to either confirm or exclude that person as a suspect.
The unique circumstances of each traffic stop determine whether a passenger is required to provide ID, so I’m sticking with my original answer: It depends.
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. Ask a question.