Unmarked patrol vehicles are used for a variety of reasons, like catching speeding or aggressive drivers.

We’ve been getting a lot of questions lately as to whether or not they are legal under Washington State law.

The answer is, yes.

Legally speaking

RCW 46.08.065 states the Washington State Patrol (WSP) is allowed to use unmarked vehicles for general undercover or confidential investigative purposes and traffic control under the discretion of the Chief.

To read the full RCW, click here.

The Washington State Patrol’s Aggressive Driving Apprehension Team (ADAT)

The ADAT program is a proactive effort to locate and arrest aggressive drivers. They use unmarked/unconventional police vehicles equipped with mobile video cameras to detect and apprehend such drivers.

They’re looking for people making unsafe lane changes, following too closely, going 20+ mph over the speed limit, etc.

The Washington State Patrol’s Commercial Vehicle Division also uses unmarked patrol vehicles.

Why the WSP Uses Unmarked Vehicles

Many Troopers prefer driving the fully marked, white Patrol vehicles— mainly because of its visibility. Trooper John Lizama explains marked Patrol cars create a “halo effect” on the roadways. In other words, drivers put down their cell phones, stop speeding, and become perfect law-abiding citizens.

However, unmarked vehicles give Troopers the opportunity to see people’s driving habits and provide education on how to change their behavior.  ADAT Trooper Josh Sanborn says by being unmarked, Troopers are able to address the main concerns Washingtonians call 911 about. For example, most people won’t speed or camp out in the left lane in front of a marked vehicle…but they may do it in front of an unmarked vehicle. ADAT Troopers have the ability to address those problems.

To learn more about why we use unmarked vehicles, check out the video below:



Some Washington State residents are concerned the use of unmarked patrol vehicles could make it difficult to tell the difference between a legitimate Trooper and police impersonators.

Sergeant James Prouty says Troopers will always be in uniform and identify themselves when they approach the car. He adds the Patrol trains Troopers to pull people over in safe areas to minimize any risk.

“If you’re doubtful or unsure/uncomfortable of the situation, comply with the officer, pull over to the side of the road, and immediately call 911. Dispatchers will be able to tell you if it’s the real deal or not,” Sergeant Prouty says.

**Washington State Patrol Troopers ask that you please pull over safely before dialing 9-1-1 for three main reasons:

  1. Eliminates distracted driving. When lights come on behind you, it can be a stressful situation. When you add safely changing lanes, pulling over to the shoulder, using your signals properly, and trying to dial 911, it can be very dangerous.
  2. Demonstrates to the Trooper that you are following his or her commands and are not trying to evade the officer. Troopers are trained to conduct traffic stops in safe locations.
  3. Once pulled over, the driver can safely get visual confirmation that they’re being stopped by a legitimate officer while on the phone with dispatch. Dispatch will answer every time, right away.

For more information on what to expect during a traffic stop, please see the video below.

**Later addition