Newcomers are supposed to obtain a Washington driver’s license, re-register their vehicles and pay the required fees within 30 days of moving to the state. That doesn’t always happen.

Police insist they enforce the law — but mostly when in pursuit of other violations.

Now a new Washington state law that took effect July 28 aims to encourage violators to comply with the law — once they are caught — by creating a diversion program and reducing the fine.

Traffic Lab is a Seattle Times project that digs into the region’s thorny transportation issues, spotlights promising approaches to easing gridlock, and helps readers find the best ways to get around. It is funded with the help of community sponsors Madrona Venture Group and PEMCO Mutual Insurance Company. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain editorial control over Traffic Lab content.

First-time offenders will still receive a citation, but it can be dismissed if they go to court, pay a $500 fine and obtain a valid Washington driver’s license and vehicle registration within 90 days.

Previously, violators could be fined up to $1,529 on the first offense. Under the new law, those who don’t comply after being cited would be fined that full amount.

The new law preserves an existing exception for people serving in the military.


The state loses millions of dollars in potential revenue each year from people failing to properly register their vehicles, said state Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, who sponsored the bill.

She first introduced the legislation, Senate Bill 5362, in 2017. It was unanimously approved on the last day of the 2019 session.

Wilson said a 2007 study by Washington State University found that about 20,000 cars in Clark County had license plates from other states, mostly Oregon.

The Washington Department of Licensing could not provide estimates for the number of improperly registered vehicles in King County or the amount of lost revenue.

Newcomers who don’t bring a car with them are still required to obtain a Washington state driver’s license.

Vehicle registration fees and taxes fund a number of transportation projects, including some Washington State Patrol activities, state ferry maintenance, public transit, highway construction and county roads and bridges.

Wilson also hopes the reduced penalty for a first offense will encourage state troopers to cite violators more often. She said some officers told her they were reluctant to give out tickets because of the hefty fine, and she plans to continue meeting with law enforcement about the new law.

“If there are people out there that have been here for a while, it’s better to go pay the fees than be pulled over and face a fine,” she said.