Sullivan: The do’s and don’ts of beach driving in Washington

Jun 11, 2024, 6:32 AM | Updated: 2:14 pm

Driving on the beach is one of those great experiences that we have here in Washington, but it appears that many people don’t know the rules.

I learned to drive on the Long Beach Peninsula, first grabbing the wheel while sitting on my dad’s lap before I could even reach the pedals. I advanced to driving at very low speeds before even getting my permit. Sure, those are both illegal, but that’s how things were done in the 70s and 80s.

One thing that early experience gave me was a great respect for the ocean, the sand and how careful you have to be while driving on the sand.

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Even at 54 years old, I still love the thrill of driving on the sand, but the things I see other drivers doing just boggles my mind. I’m not sure if the public at large understands the rules for driving on the beach. On Saturday, I met with Washington State Park (WSP) Ranger David Linthakhan on the sand just outside of Seaview to go over the basics.

“This is a state highway, so anything you wouldn’t do on any road in town, you really shouldn’t do out here,” Ranger Linthakhan said.

Let’s say that again. The beach is a state highway, and all of the same driving rules apply.

There is a 25-mile-an-hour speed limit, and the law spells out exactly where you can — and more importantly where you cannot — drive on the beach.

“What most people don’t know is the actual legal drivable area,” Ranger Linthakhan said. “Which is the uppermost hard pack sand, which is essentially as far east as you can go without being in the soft sand.”

When you drive onto the beach, there are specific areas. There are the dunes. Then the soft sand. Then the hard-packed sand, the wet sand and then the ocean. You need to drive as far away from the water as possible without getting up into the soft sand. Wet sand is dangerous to drive on and it’s bad for the clams. That’s where they live. Driving over them is bad.

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“A good rule of thumb is just where the majority of the tracks are is probably where you should,” Ranger Linthakhan said. “What I like to tell people is if it’s wet and shiny don’t go there.”

beach driving washington

Washington State Park Ranger David Linthakhan going over the rules of the road of driving on the beach. (Photo: Chris Sullivan, KIRO Newsradio)

If you’re the only car there, you probably shouldn’t be there.

And I know it’s tempting, but you should keep the hot-dogging to a minimum.

“Most people realize when they get out here that they shouldn’t do some of the things that they do, like spinning in circles and fishtailing,” Ranger Linthakhan said. “People say ‘Oh it’s the beach, I thought it was OK,’ but somewhere down inside, they probably knew that was not cool.”

But it’s not the donuts that get most drivers in trouble. Just like on pavement, Ranger Linthakhan said speed is the biggest problem.

“I mean, it’s flat most of the time and you can see for miles so it’s pretty easy to get going too fast,” he said. “The problem is as the tide comes and goes. It creates ruts and areas that you don’t really know are there until you’re on top of it. That’s when accidents happen.”

As for technique, keep up a steady speed. Don’t make sudden movements and approach any water cautiously. You never know for sure how deep it is.

What about braking?

“Don’t slam on your brakes,” Ranger Linthakhan said. “Don’t stop with your brakes unless you absolutely have to. Let yourself roll to a stop. What happens when you slam on your brakes, which pushes the sand in a mound in front of your tires, and then you’re fighting that. If you’re in a front wheel drive vehicle, you’re probably going to get stuck.”

And be hyper-vigilant in scanning the beach. Dogs and children like to dart around on the beach, and you never know when one might pop up from behind a car parked on the sand. A note on that too. Try not to park your car in the middle of the road. If there are a bunch of tracks in the sand, you should probably park a little closer to the soft sand.

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But even if you’re parked in the wrong place, it’s still up to the other drivers to safely get around you.

“There is no law that says you can’t place your stuff someplace in that space, but it’s up to the individual driver to recognize that there are people there and I should give them a wide berth,” Ranger Linthakhan said.

Beach driving is fun. Just be smart and courteous about it. And please stay off the clam beds.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints here. You can also follow Chris on X, formerly known as TwitterHead here to follow KIRO Newsradio Traffic’s profile on X.


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Sullivan: The do’s and don’ts of beach driving in Washington