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White bag means parked car not abandoned

Driving down Interstate 5, I see some cars parked on the shoulder with white bags tied to their mirrors or antenna.  What does this signify?

— Robert T., Medford

We reached out to Star Towing for an answer, and Medford office manager Joey Iverson had to resort to Google for that answer — as did we. 

Our search yielded 2014 Reddit answers on the sincere "No stupid questions" thread, along with similar discussion on the Yahoo Answers page, which both showed user-submitted answers that a plastic bag or white piece of clothing is meant to convey that the disabled vehicle isn't abandoned, and that the owner intends to come back for the car later.

The reasoning is that drivers don't always carry pens and paper to leave a note saying they ran out of gas or the battery's dead. However, the meaning behind a plastic bag tied to a car isn't particularly clear, so we probably wouldn't advise using it to convey the message that your disabled vehicle isn't abandoned. 

Especially because a plastic bag likely won't make much of an impact if the vehicle's a hazard on the freeway. According to Iverson, if Oregon State Police troopers tag a vehicle as a traffic hazard, it only has a 12-hour window before they dispatch a tow company such as Star to remove it.

"They're going to tag it and remove it almost immediately," Iverson said.

— Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.