Hitch Mounted Bike Racks

Bike RackI have a question about rear hitch mounted bike racks which are readily available in stores. We use one with 4 bikes on it for our family and when the 4 bikes are loaded they obstruct the view of the rear licence plate, brake lights and turn signals. The corner lights can be seen through the spokes of the bike wheels but not clearly. Any opinion on this because these are widely used?

image of typical hitch mounted bike racks

You seem to have described the problems associated with these types of bike racks clearly yourself.

Obstructed Lights and Reflectors

The Motor Vehicle Act Regulations say the following:

General maintenance

4.04 (2) Lamps and reflectors required by this Division

(c) must not be shielded, covered or obscured by any part of the vehicle or load or by dirt or other material.

Lights and reflectors on the rear of the vehicle must be mounted as far apart as practicable.

The hazard might be greatest during the day when bright sunlight coupled with this obstruction prevents the brake or signal lights from being visible to a driver following you. The resulting rear end collision would certainly be considered to be at least partially your fault.

Obstructed Rear Licence Plate

With regard to the license plate:

Plates to be unobstructed

3.03 A number plate must be kept entirely unobstructed and free from dirt or foreign material, so that the numbers and letters on it may be plainly seen and read at all times and so that the numbers and letters may be accurately photographed using a speed monitoring device or traffic light safety device prescribed under section 83.1 of the Act.

Load Width

The bicycles carried by cars must not extend beyond the sides of the vehicle. Division 19.02(3)(e) MVAR prohibits this.

Intersection Safety Cameras

In order for enforcement by intersection safety cameras to be effective, the rear licence plate of the vehicle must be able to be photographed. When they are not, the driver of the vehicle may be issued a violation ticket with a penalty of $230. It appears that police currently issue about 100 of these tickets each year in B.C.

There is no indication of whether these were issued for bike racks or other obstructions.

Accessories for Bike Racks

Before you scrap the rack or sell it to some other unsuspecting purchaser, it could easily be made legal again. Moving the license plate to the back of it along with duplicating the lights that are obstructed on the vehicle would not be expensive or difficult to do.

bicycle rack auxiliary lights and license plate holder

It appears that these solutions may be purchased on line for less than the cost of the obstructed plate fine. Unfortunately, what is not clearly stated with these is if they are compliant with the rules and are marked accordingly with the appropriate DOT codes. You may wish to buy from a reputable vendor so that the item can be returned for refund if it is improper.

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I just finished reading your article on bicycle racks. I have often seen vehicles, as described, on the road, both here and all over North America, one of the problems seems to be enforcement, with so many sightings, there can't be any, this includes, dirty and or covered license plates, tail/rear lights, rear windows, rear view mirrors, inoperative lights, parking, running, head/tail lights signal lights.

When my wife and I first moved to the Comox Valley, there were numerous light/and other checks, carried on the roadside, on a pretty near daily basis, now there are none.

Another matter is, that people seem to think that, turning on a signal light, for a lane change, gives them the right away, and they cut off whatever traffic that may be in their way, when questioning this, and other items at the local RCMP station, I seem to get the same officer each time, and I'm given the same collective answer each time, as if he can't be bothered to investigate it "THERE IS NO FAST RULE FOR THIS SITUATION". This also includes, changing lanes, in both right and left turns, driving in the passing lane, although a sign states to "DRIVE IN RIGHT LANE EXCEPT TO PASS".

Another matter is, that people seem to think that, turning on a signal light, for a lane change, gives them the right away, and they cut off whatever traffic that may be in their way

Section 151 (a) is pretty damn specific.

Sometimes I'm glad I drive a white three ton van.  Highly visible, and folks tend to think twice before cutting in front of you agressively.

I occasionally carry five bicycles hung vertically from a rack mounted to the hitch receiver at the rear of our van. This rack is 70” wide (just under the full width of the vehicle) so that the bikes fully block both the tail lamps and the number plate.  I recall reading somewhere that, regardless of load, the rear lighting is required to be visible from 45-degrees in each direction, yet my rack came with no provision for mounting lights or a number plate. Alterations ensued, and it now features a light bar that mounts behind the bikes and includes side clearance lamps and an illuminated number plate holder.  It plugs into the van’s trailer socket and makes me fully compliant, but I am clearly in the minority.  

Moving the number plate back and forth is inconvenient, so I really wish that I could be issued a number plate that could be permanently installed on the rack (as for trailers) but alas I have been assured that this is impossible under the current legislation since the rack has no VIN to which the number plate could be assigned, and displaying a facsimile of my van’s number plate on the rack is also prohibited.  Perhaps at some point the regulations will be amended, making it easier to use a rear rack properly?

I have long wondered why these sorts of racks are legal to sell in the first place, given the obvious need for auxiliary lighting when in use or when in their folded position.  Other countries seem able to regulate them, and manufacturers offer compliant racks in those markets, but not here in Canada… I wish we did a better job, but it would take an enforcement drive to shine a light on the issue, and I don’t see the general driving public calling for such action… perhaps they are too busy texting to notice the need?

I sometimes carry SIX bikes so I'll bet my lights and tag are pretty well blocked even worse than yours. The bikes are mounted vertically with the wheels facing the window so I will be rigging up a DIY trailer light solution that clamps onto the handlebars of the bikes mounted at the far ends.

Moving the plate can be made easier by using magnetic studs instead of screws/bolts, though this increases the chance of loss or theft. What I'm planning to do is make a photocopy of my plate, stick the copy in a dealer tag holder and hang it off the center bike. Yes, it's technically prohibited, but I believe (correct me if I'm wrong) that it's illegal to display a facsimile in lieu of an actual ICBC-issued plate. But if I'm wrong, and any facsimile is prohibited regardless of the presence of the actual plate, then there's the question of intent: I'm committing a minor infraction in order to comply with a more important rule: to ensure my tag number is visible at all times.

An officer would have to be a complete a-hole to fine/ticket me for that, so that's the best I can do until the rules as you say are amended to accommodate.

The only other solutions are:

1) To carry bikes on top of the vehicle, which is a hazard as it's not if but when you'll forget they're up there and destroy something. Also, e-bikes are heavy and almost impossible to safely lift that high especially if it's a high-roofed vehicle such as a van.

2) To not carry bikes at all.

3) To not display a visible license plate number at all.

There's a concept called "lesser evil." Not everything is black and white and that's why there's a court system where the law is interpreted. And yes, it should be pretty clear to most reasonable readers that I intend to continue "at my own risk." Re-read the very last part of what I wrote if you missed it.