You get pulled over for allegedly running a stop sign on your bicycle. The cop asks for your driver license or other identification. Do you have to provide it?
Before answering this question, let’s start with common sense, and common sense says this: It’s always a good idea to have a driver license or state-issued ID when you cycle. Motorists are known for hitting bikes and leaving the cyclist unconscious or worse. Identification in these cases is generally a good thing.
Also, when a cop asks you for identification and you refuse or don’t have any, you run the risk of having your ride interrupted and your bike impounded. You may be vindicated many hours or days or weeks or months later, but standing on your rights when challenged always comes at a cost, a cost that at a minimum will cost you that KOM attempt up Mandeville.
But back to the question: Do you have to provide it?
California law requires users of motor vehicles to provide their license for examination upon demand of a peace officer enforcing the provisions of the California vehicle code. That’s section 12951(b), by the way. However, since a bicyclist is not a driver of a motor vehicle, you may think that you get a pass.
You’d be wrong.
California law explicitly makes the vehicle code applicable to bicyclists. Section 21200(a) says that every person riding a bicycle upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle except those provisions which by their very nature can have no application. In other words, if the driver of a motor vehicle has to show his license or ID to a cop who’s enforcing the vehicle code, so do you.
What this means is that even though you’re not technically required to have something called a bicycle driving license, if you ever get pulled over for breaking the law and can’t produce satisfactory ID to the peace officer, you can be arrested and your bike impounded, which is an end-run around “no bike driving license required” because it does in effect require you to have a license in the form of acceptable identification.
So ride with your driver license if you have one. That’s my advice.
Addendum: Due to the numerous comments and questions, I’ve added the following:
Are you required to have something called a “bicycle license” or its equivalent to operate a bicycle on public roads? No.
Are you required to have some form of ID if you are pulled over for violating a traffic law? Yes.
If you’re required to ride with some form of ID in the event you’re pulled over, isn’t that a de facto bicycle license? It may not require you to take a test or pay insurance, but if the absence of ID while riding a bike can get you arrested, then I would argue that you are indeed required to ride with something that is in at least one crucial respect the same as a driving license–it proves who you are when the police detain you.
If you believe that you as a bicyclist are immune from this requirement, it is easy to test. The next time you’re pulled over, tell the officer that you refuse to identify yourself. I predict you will be arrested.
This was my main point: That even though we aren’t required to have something called a “bicycle license,” the fact that we can be arrested in certain situations for failure to produce ID when riding a bicycle means that we are in fact quite close to having to be licensed. We can argue about the type of ID, and about police discretion to require you to produce it, but in the end if they want to force you to ID yourself, they can. Try it if you really think I’m wrong about this.
Now there is the second point. What is the legal underpinning for requiring a bicyclist to produce an ID? California no longer has a statute requiring people to ID themselves to police on demand. That law, Penal Code §647(e), has been repealed.
What follows are excerpts from a brief on investigative detentions, published by the DA of Alameda County. You can find it at: http://le.alcoda.org/publications/point_of_view/files/DETENTIONS.pdf
The landmark case of Terry v. Ohio authorizes police to stop and detain a suspect temporarily if they had a lower level of proof known as “reasonable suspicion.” Once stopped, “an officer conducting a lawful Terry stop must have the right to make this limited inquiry, otherwise the officer’s right to conduct an investigative detention would be a mere fiction.” People v. Loudermilk, (1987) 195 Cal.App.3d 996, 1002.
This is also the opinion of the Supreme Court, which added that identifying detainees also constitutes an appropriate officer-safety measure. “Obtaining a suspect’s name in the course of a Terry stop serves important government interests. Knowledge of identity may inform an officer that a suspect is wanted for another offense, or has a record of violence or mental disorder.” Hiibel v. Nevada (2004) 542 U.S. 177, 186.
Not only do officers have a right to require that the detainee identify himself, they also have a right to confirm his identity by insisting that he present “satisfactory” documentation.104 “[W]here there is such a right to so detain,” explained the Court of Appeal, “there is a companion right to request, and obtain, the detainee’s identification.” People v. Rios (1983) 140 Cal.App.3d 616, 621.
A current driver’s license or the “functional equivalent” of a license is presumptively “satisfactory” unless there was reason to believe it was forged or altered. People v. Monroe (1993) 12 Cal.App.4th 1174, 1186. Also see People v. McKay (2002) 27 Cal.4th 601, 620.
A document will be deemed the functional equivalent of a driver’s license if it contained all of the following: the detainee’s photo, brief physical description, signature, mailing address, serial numbering, and information establishing that the document is current. People v. Monroe (1993) 12 Cal.App.4th 1174, 1187. While other documents are not presumptively satisfactory, officers may exercise discretion in determining whether they will suffice. People v. McKay (2002) 27 Cal.4th 601, 622 [“[W]e do not intend to foreclose the exercise of discretion by the officer in the field in deciding whether to accept or reject other evidence—including oral evidence—of identification.”
So hopefully you agree that when you get pulled over as a suspect for breaking the law, the police have the right to demand ID and you are obligated to produce it.
I read “but not limited to” in CVC 21200 to mean that bicyclists’ duties are much broader than the cited divisions, and that’s why it says “not limited to.” Legislative history and drafting notes of the law would possibly clear that up.
I also agree that section 12591(b) explicitly applies to cars, and cannot be used as a bootstrap to somehow require bicyclists to have a “bicycling license.” But I also believe that 12591(b), in conjunction with Terry and its progeny, provides additional proof that if you are stopped by a peace officer enforcing the traffic code, you are required to provide ID. And I believe that a good brief on appeal would use that code section to show that the CVC has a strong interest in identifying all public road users when they are cited for a crime, in line with the U.S. Supreme Court in Terry. The fact that you are on a bicycle when the crime is committed will not, and should not, exempt you from this most basic investigative function of the police.
What’s key, and the point I was making, is that as a bicyclist there are excellent legal reasons to carry a CDL if you have one, and some other form of ID if you do not. There are also excellent practical reasons for carrying ID that have to do with how you interface with law enforcement. They can arrest you if you refuse to identify yourself, and if you are truculent about it, they will.
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