License Plate Visibility


Scott asked: I had a police officer pull me over the other day and tell me that I could not have my bike rack on my car unless I was actively carrying a bicycle. I am curious about the Florida law regarding bike racks that obscure your license plate.


I don’t understand the officer’s objection. There is no prohibition to having a bike rack on a car without the bicycle. A roof rack, for example. I assume the problem was the visibility of the license plate, which would likely be more obscured with the bike on the rack than without.

There is a statute that addresses the visibility of the license plate.  It must be clearly visible at all times.

s. 316.605Licensing of Vehicles

(1) Every vehicle, at all times while driven, stopped, or parked upon any highways, roads, or streets of this state, shall be licensed in the name of the owner thereof in accordance with the laws of this state unless such vehicle is not required by the laws of this state to be licensed in this state and shall …. display the license plate …. on the rear and …. to be securely fastened to the vehicle outside the main body of the vehicle not higher than 60 inches and not lower than 12 inches from the ground and no more than 24 inches to the left or right of the centerline of the vehicle …. and all letters, numerals, printing, writing, and other identification marks upon the plates regarding the word “Florida,” the registration decal, and the alphanumeric designation shall be clear and distinct …. so that they will be plainly visible and legible at all times 100 feet from the rear ….

Frequently, I see temporary plates affixed to a motor vehicle (in cases of a lost plate?) I recommend that you ask the police department to clarify the officer’s statement and if a temporary license plate fully visible above or to the side of the bike rack would suffice.

18 Comments on “License Plate Visibility

  1. Did you know it is illegal in Pennsylvania to obscure in any way the visibility of your vehicle’s license plate? Makes sense … how can the law be enforced if you can’t read the numbers on a license plate? This question about bike racks and license plate visibility came up when I learned about a lady who’s daughter received a warning from a local police authority because her empty bike rack made reading the license plate difficult. She got a verbal warning but I took a look at my own trailer hitch bike rack and discovered it partically blocked visibilty even when empty and if loaded with four bikes it was almost 100 percent blockage from most any angle of viewing. And yet I’ve driven this same car with bikes through numerous states and over thousands of miles for six years and never received a warning. The obvious answer is enforcement is not very stringent in most places … and maybe I’ve been lucky too. Still, it warranted further investigation, for the many potential violators about there in HBC Land.

  2. Take it to the DMV and ask them to take a look at it. Or take it to your local police station. I would say that the officer is just giving you a hard time. Is the plate able to be read at all from the rear, the rear can mean straight back or any where left or right from straight back in a arch around the back of the vehicle. The officer is going to be watching for you so I would just remove it for now. Let us know how it turns out.

  3. My wife received a citation from a Female FHP trooper on the turnpike yesterday. At Lake Worth Rd The FHP trooper could taken the opportunity to educate her. But didn’t. Really petty as you can easily see the tag anyplace but directly behind. So. We are paying $116.00 now for the ticket

    I’m trying to concoct a way to now affix the tag on the bike rack while we are transporting it. Issue is. Make sure there is a light on the tag at night.

    Petty citation and now trying to figure a way to keep out of the sights of the couple of petty officers out there. I think 99.9999 % of the officers would never have cited her or would have given her a corrective warning

    We now have to watch out for that .0009%

  4. Pursuant to legal bulletin published by FHSMV,

    “…if the reason that the tag cannot be read is because of an obstruction such as a trailer hitch, bicycle rack, handicap chair, or U-Haul, the above statutes are inapplicable be-cause the wording of the section 316.605(1) references “obscuring matter” rather than an ob-scuring object. See Harris v. State, 11 So. 3d 462 (Fla. 2d DCA 2009)…..”

    For your reference:

  5. I don’t know if this is more recent than the FHP bulletin, but we need to consider that it may negate the decision that is used as the basis for the bulletin quoted above.

    District Court of Appeal of Florida, First District.
    Calvin Eugene BAKER, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
    No. 1D14–4110.
    Decided: May 15, 2015

    “We disagree, and hold that this plain reading is reasonable, as the Legislature has a legitimate public-safety interest in ensuring that license tags remain unobstructed. The Legislature has an interest in ensuring that law enforcement officers can readily identify license tag numbers. In addition, the Legislature could have intended that the general public has the ability to identify license tags, if necessary, to report criminal activity or other important information.”

  6. Obviously there is an issue here

    Every city and and county bike cop and everybody pulling a trailer would be in violation


  7. “However, if the reason that the tag cannot be read is because of an obstruction such as a trailer hitch, bicycle rack, handicap chair, or U-Haul, the above statutes are inapplicable because the wording of the section 316.605(1) references “obscuring matter” rather than an obscuring object. See Harris v. State, 11 So. 3d 462 (Fla. 2d DCA 2009)”

    The case here was decided by the 2nd DCA the one you reference is by the 1st. I would say that the 1st doesn’t over rule the 2nd.

    Also the Florida Supreme court has already come out on on Temporary tags in State V Diaz saying the statute fails to properly address Temp tags.

  8. It appears that the Fla Supreme Court disapproved the 2nd DCA ruling: plate obstruction

    “For these reasons, we approve the decision of the Fifth District in English
    and disapprove the decision of the Second District in Harris.”

    But PERRY, J., dissenting.

    “Because I would conclude that section 316.605(1), Florida Statutes, is
    ambiguous, I respectfully dissent……Under the majority’s view, the licensing statute could lead to potentially
    outrageous results. For example, families and avid bikers who utilize rear bike
    racks will now be guilty of unlawful activity if any part of the bicycle or bicycle
    rack—or the nylon straps which are used to secure the bike to the rack—covers the
    license plate. The possibilities under which law enforcement may now detain
    drivers under this statute are limited only by the imagination, potentially placing in
    the hands of law enforcement unfettered discretion to enforce the statute.”

    “Law enforcement no doubt must have the ability to clearly read a license
    plate in order to properly carry out their duties. However, there must be a balance
    in order to prevent uncontrolled discretion to the individual law enforcement
    officer who makes the determination of whether a crime has been committed.”

    Still gonna fight it.

      • Maybe one of us is reading it wrong but the Supreme Court held that the 2nd DCA ruling in Harris was invalid.

        It is Perry’s dissenting opinion that should be the majority opinion in a sane world.

  9. Can I installed a mini license plate when I carry my bikes in front of the bike rack visible enough to not get a citation?

  10. FHP gave me a citation last month for my bike rack blocking my license plate. It seems the potential for not being identified by a toll camera was more a threat to society than the black Escalade that ran a red light and crossed two lanes of traffic to beat me, and the trooper, to the on ramp.

    Has there been any more discussion or legal opinion on how to use a hitch-mount bike rack without getting a ticket?

  11. John,

    I’m not aware of any further discussion on the issue. Maybe one of our readers knows more about it?

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