Dave from Berthoud writes, “What’s driving you crazy? I have a photo on my phone of a bike rack on a car covering up the rear license plate - with no bikes in it. Is that even legal?”
No Dave, it is not legal. Nor is it legal if there were bikes on the rack. Some people online speculate that drivers would do this to bypass the license plate readers on a toll road or avoid being caught by photo radar or the red light cameras. I have doubts about that being a widespread reason for the empty bike rack.
Colorado Revised Statute 42-3-202 clearly states: “A person shall not operate a motor vehicle with an affixed device or a substance that causes all or a portion of a license plate to be unreadable by a system used to automatically identify a motor vehicle.”
A bike rack, with bikes or not, qualifies as an affixed device. When I talked to a couple of officers about this, one an avid cyclist, they told me there is the intent of the law and officer discretion. The law is written so officers or automatic plate readers, like the ones on a toll road, can see and read the plate easily. They aren’t likely to pull you over unless they believe there is real intent to break the law. The best way to do that is to remove the bike rack from the vehicle when there are no bikes on it. When there are bikes on the rack, the officers I spoke to told me they would feel there is reasonable suspicion that driver is not intending to break the law.
According to bicycleuniverse.com, “Every state has some sort of laws around safely transporting bikes with your vehicles. Some of them are vaguer about the whole thing than others, but it’s safe to say that the following should be kept in mind: Most states require that license plates and taillights be visible to other drivers while on the road. This means that if you’re using a rear mount, you may need an auxiliary plate.”
The website notes that the law in Utah allows for plates to be obscured by a trailer hitch, a wheelchair lift, a trailer, a bike rack, or any other cargo carrying device, as long as the installation instructions were done properly. They cite Michigan as well saying the law was amended there to allow bike racks to block license plates.
Interestingly, in Australia, Yakima makes a mini accessory license plate that is basically a mini license plate with your plate number that you Velcro strap to the bike when it is blocking your actual license plate. I can’t say that it is legal by any means, but it isn’t a bad idea ether.
Denver7 traffic anchor Jayson Luber says he has been covering Denver-metro traffic since Ben-Hur was driving a chariot. (We believe the actual number is over 20 years.) He's obsessed with letting viewers know what's happening on their drive and the best way to avoid the problems that spring up. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or listen to his Driving You Crazy podcast on iTunes , Stitcher , Google Play or Podbean.