Montgomery County Council members on Tuesday heard support for ending the county’s requirement that bicycles be registered.
“A very small fraction of bicycle owners register their bikes,” Dinesh Patil, an acting assistant chief with the Montgomery County Police Department, said during a bill public hearing, calling the compliance rate “extremely poor.”
The county’s registration law was in the spotlight after Silver Spring activist Steve Silverman was issued a criminal citation for not having his bike registered.
In December, he posted a video of an encounter he had with police in June. Then, state Del. David Moon directed more attention to the law, calling it “stupid” in a Facebook post.
Silverman, while riding his bike one day, noticed a boy being questioned by a police officer. He said he held up his phone as if he might videotape what he saw, then later told the boy about his rights when dealing with police.
As Silverman was riding away, police stopped him and gave him the criminal citation for not having a registered bike. Silverman videotaped that interaction with police.
The situation was the focus of a Jan. 21 Bethesda Beat story.
County Council members took notice and pledged to change the law. All nine council members are sponsors or co-sponsors of pending legislation to eliminate the registration requirement, but allow voluntary registration.
Patil said the main benefit of registration is having a way to track a bike later, if it’s lost or stolen. If a registration sticker is removed, police can still track a bike through an owner’s name or a serial number as the bike is sold online or ends up at a pawn shop, he said.
Under the bill, registration would be mandatory for rental bicycles.
Patil said “just a few” bikes have been impounded over the years because they were not registered, compared to hundreds impounded after they were stolen or abandoned.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Silverman said Montgomery County’s law has “a fundamental quirk” that lets police criminally charge and arrest people for behaviors that should never go beyond a civil violation.
Silverman thanked the council for its “swift response” in pledging to change the law.
Besides making bike registration voluntary, the new bill also would repeal the authority of police to impound an unregistered bike. It also would end the possibility that police could deposit the proceeds from the sale of a bike impounded or abandoned to a “Police Relief and Retirement Fund.”
Actually, Patil said, that’s not possible anyway, despite how the current law reads. The fund has not existed “for many years,” he said.
Peter Gray, representing the Washington Area Bicyclists Association, which has about 1,500 members in Montgomery County, spoke in favor of the bill.
He said bicycle registration “serves no traffic safety or accountability purpose.”
Voluntary registration is a good idea and might be encouraged with a reward, such as a free bicycle lock, he said. “But mandatory registration creates too many problems without sufficient benefits.”
“Unknown rules encourage selective enforcement,” Gray added. The current law lets police threaten to cite and impound a bike when they do not approve of a cyclist’s behavior, he said, mentioning Silverman’s encounter.
The County Council took no action on the bill on Tuesday, but some members spoke favorably about it. Council Members Craig Rice and Will Jawando separately recalled when they had bicycles stolen.