Advice

Parking and covering your motorbike’s number plate

There is a myth among bikers that if you cover your number plate you can avoid getting a parking ticket in a marked bay. Unfortunately, it seems it’s just that – a myth. However…

This article came about because the other day I had no other option but to park in a resident parking bay, with no other dedicated motorcycle or paid parking options available (or so I thought).

As I was using my helmet bag to cover up my number plate, a parking attendant came along and pointed out that he was allowed to remove any cover over a number plate.

When I challenged him, claiming he wasn’t allowed to tamper with my vehicle he explained, “Council legislation says that I can remove the cover to ascertain if the vehicle is abandoned.” To his credit, he then pointed out there was a bike bay a few streets away and that it was empty.

The tampering argument

There is no such law stating that parking attendants or traffic wardens cannot tamper with your vehicle. If there were one it seems to have been abandoned sometime around 2005.

This makes sense because if it were possible to simply cover a vehicle to avoid parking fees every single street in Britain would feature row after row of covered cars and bikes…

You can cover the vehicle, but the cover must make the vehicle’s registration number visible. Few bike covers do this, by the way.

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The ‘abandoned vehicle loophole’

Technically, to cover your number plate when it is parked on a public road is an offence under S43(1) of Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994.

However, only a Police Officer or a Controlled [by the Police] Traffic Warden can issue a Fixed Penalty Notice for that offence. Obviously, they would need to remove the cover to discover the vehicle’s registration number to issue the notice to.

Parking attendants don’t have that power because they are employed by the Local Authority, not the police.

However, the Local Authority is required, by law, to discover and remove abandoned vehicles. Their officers, Parking Attendants, have the right to check your number plate to see if the vehicle is currently registered with the DVLA (up to date Tax Disc, declared SORN etc) to see if it has been abandoned.

And it seems that once they have removed the cover they can they go on to issue a ticket for an offence you have committed, which is parking where you shouldn’t.

Also, it seems, if you completely remove the number plate, as long as the bike is parked on the road, the council has the right to remove it as an abandoned vehicle.

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They don’t even need to use that excuse…

Thinking that a bit strange, being allowed to identify a vehicle to give a parking ticket on the basis of a completely separate offence, I dug a bit deeper and found this:

Parking Enforcement: Removal of Vehicle Covers
Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty’s Government:

“Whether traffic wardens and parking attendants are permitted to lift material used to cover a car parked in a parking bay, or a motorcycle parked on a pavement, in order to ascertain its identity and the right for the vehicle to be parked there.”

In response, Lord Davies of Oldham: “While there is no specific legislation which permits, or prohibits, the removal of vehicle covers for the purpose of establishing its identity, it is an offence under Section 43 of the Vehicle Excise Registration Act 1994 to obscure a vehicle’s registration plate. Parking attendants have a legitimate interest in determining registration details if they believe a vehicle is contravening a traffic law. I understand that parking attendants do remove covers to establish a vehicle’s identity and it would be, ultimately, for the courts to decide on the legality of such actions.”

So, there is nothing in law that either permits or prohibits the removal of a cover over your number plate, and this leaves the traffic warden or parking attendant free to, in their legitimate interest, determine your registration number.

And once they have your registration number and you are committing a parking offence, it’s Penalty Charge Notice time, no ifs, no buts.

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However…

You’ll notice that last line from Lord Davies’ response says, “…it would be, ultimately, for the courts to decide on the legality of such actions.”

And on that basis, if you had deep enough pockets and cared enough, you could, through the courts, challenge a council on the legality of interfering with your vehicle.

But then they could simply fall back on the ‘abandoned vehicle’ loophole. So we are not sure it’s worth bothering, except to prove once and for all, via a Judge’s verdict, what the exact law is.

A final thought

Back in my ‘conversation’ with the parking attendant, I noticed that while he was keen to point out he had the right to remove my helmet cover from the number plate, he didn’t seem so keen to actually do so. Not least when I was standing there.

What would have happened when I left wasn’t worth spending £80 to find out.

Get yourself sorted:

The covering your number plate myth is busted. Find somewhere to park legally.

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The Author

Ian Malone

Ian Malone

Ian is the Editor and a co-founder of Biker & Bike.

He is obsessed about bikes to the point that he often starts conversations with new people by saying, "Please don't get me onto the subject of bikes. We'll be here all day."

Inevitably, the next question asked is nearly always, "What bike have you got, then?"

He owns four bikes right now:

'78 Kawasaki Z650
'97 Triumph Daytona 955i
'02 Suzuki SV650s
'09 Yamaha R1

At any one time, only two of these bikes are ever working, as you can read about on our blog.