Are Rear Bike Racks Legal? Common Issues and Laws About Racks

Published by Bike Scientist on

Rear bike racks are more convenient as compared with roof racks when it comes to loading and unloading the bikes. But are rear bike racks legal? The laws vary in the different states but these racks have some issues that can be dealt with to keep using a rear bike rack.

What Are Some Common Issues Associated With Bike Racks?

Rear bike racks include hitch, trunk, and spare tire mount racks. These racks usually block the visibility of the license plate and that is when they become problematic. Most states do not allow hiding the plate and this leads to the question of whether rear bike racks are legal or not.

Similarly, these racks might also be a reason for blocked taillights. This can cause safety issues, especially at night so it is better to go for a rack that does not block the license plate or the taillights.

Also since rear mount racks are supposed to attach on the trunk or on the hitch, if the installation is weak or if any unit is not properly mounted, it can result in an accident. So this puts the other drivers and cars, behind you, at risk.

Other than that, rear bike racks usually limit the users from accessing the trunk of the car. This does not cause safety issues but it makes it inconvenient if your car has to get through security checks for the trunk. But not always because some rear racks come with tilting and swing-away features that let users open the trunk when the rack is installed.

These racks also increase the length of the cars and when multiple bikes are installed, there is a prominent increase. This can make driving in narrow lanes difficult. Similarly, backing up or parking becomes a bit tricky with the increased car length.

But can all these problems solve by using roof racks? Although you will no longer have a blocked license plate or taillights and you can easily open the trunk, roof racks have their own issues. They are expensive and create more drag while driving leading to low fuel efficiency. And since they raise the height of the vehicle, their use is limited to places that do not have overhead clearance issues.

Are Rear Bike Racks Legal in the States?

Rear bike racks are legal but on the condition that they do not block the license plate. So if your rear bike rack does not hinder the visibility of the license plate you can use it easily. Or you can take steps to remove the above-mentioned problems from the rack and use it without any trouble.

All states have different laws regarding driving and safety. Although there are no laws regarding rear bike racks, there are laws about the visibility of the license plate which directly affects these racks.

Some states, like Virginia, are very straightforward about the illegal nature of blocked license plates. While some states like Utah and Michigan allow bike racks or trailers even if they block the license plate.

Thus you should check with the laws in your state regarding license plate visibility. So is there a way you can use the rear bike racks and not break the law in states that do not allow blocking the license plate?

Yes, you can use an auxiliary license plate in such a case.

Auxiliary license plate displayed by the Yakima Platemate
Auxiliary license plate displayed by the Yakima Platemate

So the only problem that could put you at risk of getting a ticket is the blockage of the license plate. You can avoid this by getting racks that hang or hold the bikes above the license plate or by getting an auxiliary plate to display the number clearly.

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Bike Scientist

S Chaudhry is the founder and the first writer for BikesRacks. He covers almost all the bike reviews after doing a lot of secondary and primary (hands on) research on the products. Apart from that he is the author of a number of how to do articles as well on the website. He is an avid road bike cyclists who is dealing in a lot of areas related to biking. Currently he has gained experience fixing bikes to retailing accessories related to them as well. His eventual goal is to build an authority site on cycling and also become a profession bike fitter.


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