Traffic

Traffic Q&A: Is it illegal for your bike rack to obscure your license plate?

RCW 46.16A.200, which regulates the use of license plates in the Evergreen State, specifically says a rear plate must be “kept clean and be able to be plainly seen and read at all times.”
RCW 46.16A.200, which regulates the use of license plates in the Evergreen State, specifically says a rear plate must be “kept clean and be able to be plainly seen and read at all times.” Courtesy Washington DOL

Q: My wife and I were behind a car recently that had a bike rack on the back that blocked the rear license plate. Is this legal? – Scott U., Auburn

A: Technically, no.

RCW 46.16A.200, which regulates the use of license plates in the Evergreen State, specifically says a rear plate must be “kept clean and be able to be plainly seen and read at all times.”

I suspect a couple of bikes hanging from a rack on the back of your other ride might make that difficult.

Now, is it so illegal that a law enforcement officer might stop you for it?

Well, that depends on the officer.

“Technically, your plate is supposed to be visible,” Washington State Patrol trooper Shaneka Phillips told us. “Have I ever stopped someone for it? No, but that doesn’t mean another trooper wouldn’t.”

This from Tacoma police spokeswoman Loretta Cool:

“Yes, the bikes do sometimes block the plate. We can stop it due to the obstruction. But it would only be cited if the plate was expired.”

The issue has sparked outrage among bicyclists from Missouri to California. But we couldn’t find any solid information about how to address it.

Phillips said she’s heard of companies that sell special attachments used to display your plate on a bike rack.

Our exhaustive five-minute online search did not turn up any made specifically for bike racks. And the license-plate attachments made for other uses we found did not look easy to modify or install.

Of course, if we were mechanically inclined, we wouldn’t be in the writing racket.

Maybe detaching the rear plate and mounting it in the back window?

We don’t see anything in the law prohibiting that, although RCW 46.16A.200 does state a plate “must be attached in a horizontal position at a distance of not more than four feet from the ground.”

Give us a shout if you’ve got some bright ideas or know of a product that might help.

Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644, @TNTAdam

  Comments