Washington State Legislature enacts a new highway code in March 1937.

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 1/18/2005
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7211
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In March 1937, the Washington state legislature enacts a new highway code, and Governor Clarence B. Martin (1887-1955) signs the bill. The code addresses the administration of the highway department, state road aid to counties and cities, vehicle and operator registration and licensing, and rules of the road.

Rules of the Road

Prior to the March 1937 legislation, highway code had been pieced together bit by bit as necessity dictated. The growing demand for safer roads with uniform signage and the rapidly increasing number of drivers made a clear, complete, and coordinated highway code essential.

The code approved in 1937 was the result of a detailed study conducted between 1933 and 1935 and first presented to the legislature along with a completely revised highway code in 1935. The legislature did not approve this measure. They ordered analysis of other states' laws, an examination of all pertinent laws in Washington from 1854 to 1937, and that "a complete codification of highway laws be presented to the 1937 legislature" ("Forty Years With The Washington Department of Highways," 19).

The new code authorized a merit system for department employees. These employees had been brought under a centralized personnel department between 1933 and 1935 and retroactive service records assembled for them at that time. The merit system primarily judged employees on the basis of efficiency. The duties of the Director of Highways were also enumerated.

The 1937 Highway Code raised the speed limit to 50 miles per hour and instituted a vehicle safety inspection requirement. A Washington Toll Bridge Authority was established at this time, and designations of primary and secondary state highways were made.


"Forty Years With the Washington Department of Highways" (1945) (http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/research/ History/40years.htm) accessed October 19, 2004; Seventeenth Biennial Report of the Director of Highways, 1936-1938 (Olympia: State Printing Plant, 1938); 1937 Wash. Laws, Ch. 53, 166, 187, 188, 189, 208.

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