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Road Rights- Identity Crisis

There’s no such thing as a cycling license–but you should carry ID on rides. Here’s why.

By Bob Mionske

Here’s a conundrum: if you don’t need a license to ride a bike, do you need to be able to show ID when a police officer asks for it? In most states, the answer is no. But depending on where you live, you may be required to produce ID if you are stopped for a traffic violation.

Confused? You’re not alone. Here’s the reasoning behind this apparent contradiction: As a user of public roads, you are subject to traffic laws. And if you break a law, you can be ticketed. That’s the price of having a right to the road.

If an officer stops you, he is permitted by law to ask you to identify yourself if reasonable suspicion exists that you have violated a law, whether he intends to write a ticket or not. Often, all you are required to do in these situations is provide your name and address. But in some states, the law allows the officer to require you to provide proof of your identity. In California, if an officer sees a violation (or has a reasonable belief one has occurred) and stops you, he may require you to show proof of your identity. If he does so, you are required to produce a driver’s license or its functional equivalent–a government-issued ID card such as a military identification or a passport. This means your student or work ID card, your credit card and your frequent-flier card would not suffice.

What if you have only a student ID card? Under California law, the officer has the discretion to accept it, but if he or she doesn’t–and you can’t produce adequate ID–the officer can choose to take you into custody. This means in California, Colorado and perhaps a few more states, you could run afoul of the law if you don’t ride with a driver’s license or another government-issued ID. It sounds silly, but failing to have one could cause bigger problems than you would normally have from just, say, running a stop sign.

State laws vary, and it’s a good idea to know the law wherever you are riding. But the bottom line is that it will probably make sense to go beyond what the law requires. This means that you should always ride with some form of identification. A simple wristband ID, such as the one made by Road ID, will help emergency responders identify you if you are injured and unable to speak. And in many states, this may also serve as proof of ID.

Research and drafting provided by Rick Bernardi, JD.

 

This article, Identity Crisis, originally appeared on Bicycling on December 30, 2010.

Now read the fine print:
Bicycle and the Law, Bob MionskeBob Mionske is a former competitive cyclist who represented the U.S. at the 1988 Olympic games (where he finished fourth in the road race), the 1992 Olympics, as well as winning the 1990 national championship road race.
After retiring from racing in 1993, he coached the Saturn Professional Cycling team for one year before heading off to law school. Mionske's practice is now split between personal-injury work, representing professional athletes as an agent and other legal issues facing endurance athletes (traffic violations, contract, criminal charges, intellectual property, etc).
Mionske is also the author of Bicycling and the Law, designed to be the primary resource for cyclists to consult when faced with a legal question. It provides readers with the knowledge to avoid many legal problems in the first place, and informs them of their rights, their responsibilities, and what steps they can take if they do encounter a legal problem.
 
If you have a cycling-related legal question, please send it to mionskelaw@hotmail.com Bob will answer as many of these questions privately as he can. He will also select a few questions each week to answer in this column. General bicycle-accident advice can be found at www.bicyclelaw.com.
Important notice:
The information provided in the "Road Rights" column is not legal advice. The information provided on this public web site is provided solely for the general interest of the visitors to this web site. The information contained in the column applies to general principles of American jurisprudence and may not reflect current legal developments or statutory changes in the various jurisdictions and therefore should not be relied upon or interpreted as legal advice. Understand that reading the information contained in this column does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Bob Mionske. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained in the web site without first seeking the advice of legal counsel.

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