traffic code prohibits operating a vehicle on any part of a
highway that does not meet the statutory definition of a
roadway. Jena Brooks's car was stopped for violating this
provision after it crossed a neutral area separating a
highway onramp from an adjacent lane of travel. Because the
neutral area does not meet the definition of a roadway, the
stop was permissible. The superior court's ruling to the
contrary is therefore reversed.
merging onto westbound U.S. Route 97 from U.S. Route 2 in
Chelan County, Jena Brooks's car crossed over a portion
of the highway designated as a "neutral area." A
neutral area is a paved triangular space separating an
entrance or exit ramp from an adjacent lane of highway. The
neutral area between Route 97 and its merger with westbound
Route 2 is marked on each side by thick white channelizing
lines. Figure 1 is a depiction of a neutral area similar to
the one crossed by Ms. Brooks.
Washington State Patrol trooper observed Ms. Brooks's
vehicular activity and performed a traffic stop. Ms. Brooks
was ultimately arrested for driving on a suspended license
and other misdemeanor offenses.
proceedings in district court, Ms. Brooks filed a motion to
suppress, arguing her vehicle had been stopped without cause.
The motion was denied. Pertinent to this appeal, the district
court ruled Ms. Brooks's merger over the highway's
neutral area constituted "driving with wheels off
roadway, " in violation of RCW 46.61.670. Ms. Brooks was
subsequently convicted of several misdemeanor offenses after
a jury trial.
Brooks successfully appealed the suppression ruling to the
superior court. It found Washington's definition of a
roadway ambiguous in the context of a highway's neutral
area. The superior court then invoked the rule of lenity and
determined Ms. Brooks should not have been stopped for
driving with wheels off the roadway in violation of RCW
State sought discretionary review from this court. Review was
granted on two specific issues: (1) whether the term roadway
is ambiguous in the current context, and (2) if the term is
ambiguous, whether the rule of lenity is an available tool of
statutory construction that might benefit a defendant such as
the meaning of the term "roadway, " as used in RCW
46.61.670, is a matter of statutory interpretation. As such,
our review is de novo. Dep't of Ecology v. Campbell
& Gwinn, LLC, 146 Wn.2d 1, 9, 43 P.3d 4 (2002). We
focus our statutory interpretation analysis on the language
used by the legislature. In re Marriage of
Schneider, 173 Wn.2d 353, 363, 268 P.3d 215 (2011).
Resources such as dictionaries may be used to decipher a
statute's plain meaning. Cornu-Labat v. Hosp. Dist.
No. 2, 177 Wn.2d 221, 231, 298 P.3d 741 (2013). However,
we will not resort to aides of construction such as
legislative history and (perhaps) the rule of lenity unless
we first find the legislature's language truly ambiguous.
Timberline Air Serv. Inc. v. Bell Helicopter-Textron,
Inc., 125 Wn.2d 305, 312, 884 P.2d 920 (1994); State
v. Conover, 183 Wn.2d 706, 712, 355 P.3d 1093 (2015).
the term "roadway" begins with the relevant
statutory text. Title 46 RCW defines "roadway" as
"that portion of a highway improved, designed, or
ordinarily used for vehicular travel, exclusive of the
sidewalk or shoulder even though such sidewalk or shoulder is
used by persons riding bicycles." RCW 46.04.500.
statutory definition of a roadway involves a two-part
inquiry. First, we ask whether a given portion of highway
meets the triggering definition of a roadway. In other words,
is the area improved, designed, or ordinarily used for
vehicular travel? If not, the inquiry ends. The area is not a
roadway. But if at least one of the three triggering
definitions applies, we go on to ask whether the area is
excluded from the scope of a roadway because the area
constitutes a sidewalk or shoulder. If neither exclusion
applies, then the area in question falls under the
legislature's definition of a roadway.
three triggering definitions, highway design is the least
indicative of roadway status in the current context. A
highway's neutral area is not a vehicle lane. It is too
short to facilitate meaningful travel. And its triangular
shape cannot consistently accommodate the size of a vehicle.
Rather than being designed for vehicular travel, it is
apparent the neutral area is designed as a buffer zone. It
keeps vehicles separate so as to facilitate speed adjustment
and, in the context of a highway onramp, safe vehicle
standards set by the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control
Devices for Streets and Highways confirm our observations
about the apparent design purpose of a highway's neutral
area. FED. HIGHWAY ADMIN., U.S. DEP'T OF TRANSP., MANUAL
ON Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways
(2009 ed., rev. May 2012) (MUTCD). The MUTCD refers to the
neutral area as an "island." MUTCD, § 31.02,
at 430. As such, it is an area intended for vehicle
"separation." MUTCD, § 1A. 13(03)(98), at 15.
Although a neutral area may be designated either by a wide or
double solid white channelizing line (MUTCD, §§
1A.13(03)(29), at 12, 1A.13(03)(124), at 17), the two options
carry no substantive significance. Like a double white line,
a solid white line can serve as an indicator that crossing is