I recently received a ticket for having a rear-mounted bike rack obscuring the rear licence plate on my car. It is frustrating that after spending a couple of thousand dollars on installing a hitch and buying a quality bike rack, we now run the risk of being ticketed every time we use it. I bought a licence-plate holder for my Thule rack, but it does not bolt onto the rack – it attaches with straps – so it would be easy for someone to steal the licence plate and the holder. Could a solution be to buy a third licence plate – with the same numbers as the front and back plates – to permanently mount on the rack? – Dustin, Vancouver
Unfortunately, buying an extra licence plate to mount on your bike rack isn’t an option anywhere in Canada.
“Drivers can’t obtain a third licence plate for display on a vehicle in [British Columbia],” Lindsay Wilkins, spokeswoman for the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC), which regulates drivers’ licences and vehicle registrations in B.C., wrote in an e-mail.
In every province, you can get a ticket for having your licence plate obstructed by anything, including mud, snow, plastic covers and rear-mounted bike racks.
In B.C., it’s up to an officer to decide whether to give you a ticket, RCMP Corporal Mike Moore, spokesman for B.C. Highway Patrol, said in an e-mail. Fines can range from $109 to $230, he said. In Quebec, the fines could range from $30 to $500, Sûreté du Québec, the provincial police, said in an e-mail. In Ontario, it’s an $85 fine. In Ontario, there have been proposed Highway Traffic Act amendments – most recently, the No Flak for Carrying Racks Act in 2018 – to allow bike racks to obscure rear plates, but they didn’t pass.
But no province allows you to buy an extra licence plate that you can mount on a bike rack to avoid getting a ticket. This is to prevent extra plates from being used on cars they aren’t registered to, Wilkins said.
In provinces that only use a rear plate, you’re allowed only one plate per vehicle. In B.C., Manitoba and Ontario – the only provinces that require front and rear plates – you’re allowed no more than two plates per vehicle.
Generally, you can move plates around the rear of the vehicle to make them visible as required by law – higher, lower, to the left or to the right – including onto the rack itself, said Kyla Lee, a Vancouver criminal defence lawyer.
If you’re using a rack-mounted plate holder at night, it will have to be lit to follow provincial safety regulations, Lee said.
Copies not allowed
Since buying an extra plate for your bike rack is prohibited, could you display a photocopy or sticker of your plate on your rack instead? Nope. That won’t work either. You need the original plate.
“A photocopy or another image of a licence plate isn’t permitted,” ICBC’s Wilkins said.
Police need to be able to see your plates because many forces use automated licence plate recognition (ALPR) technology, where cruiser-mounted infrared cameras snap photos of up to 3,000 plates an hour – catching cars in both directions, Lee said.
The system checks the plate to see whether it’s on a transportation ministry list that includes expired or suspended licences. It also connects to the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) to check plates that are reported stolen or associated with warrants or Amber Alerts.
Finally, red light and speed cameras need to clearly see your plates to work, Lee said.
“I’ve talked to people who buy a vinyl decal of their licence plate and then put the decal over the licence plate,” Lee said. “The intention is to reduce the reflectiveness of the plate and the special paint that’s interpreted by the licence plate scanners. That’s also illegal.”
While some provinces, such as Quebec, do issue temporary paper permits showing your licence plate number, they can only be used while you’re waiting for new or replacement plates to arrive in the mail.
If you have trailer plates, you can’t use those on your bike rack, either – they’re meant for trailers only, ICBC’s Wilkins said.
If you regularly use a rear-mounted bike rack and don’t want to worry about getting a ticket, your best bet is to find a rack that won’t obscure your plate when properly installed or to find one with a secure plate holder, Lee said.
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