Last week, more than 750 bicyclists from all 50 states gathered for the 2013 National Bike Summit — and several advocates were able to attend specifically because of their state’s Share the Road license plate. As a beneficiary of the specialty plates, Georgia Bikes used some of it funding to provide scholarships for three key advocates working in underrepresented communities.
But the Peach State is one of two dozen that have some version of a Share the Road plate. In this edition of Bike Law University, we explore the what, why and where of this increasingly important funding source.
What are they?
Share the Road license plates are specialty plates for cars that show support for the bicycling community. Specialty license plates are usually created after a legislative or administrative process that involves a certain amount of guaranteed sales. Plates can usually be bought at any time and often provide dedicated funding for an advocacy organization in a state.
Why should you care?
In many states, funds gained through Share the Road license plates are set aside for bicycle safety or education programs, or are shared with bicycle advocacy organizations in the state. In this way, Share the Road plates can be an important tool to ensure that there is dedicated funding for bicycling advocacy organizations or programs in addition to spreading the valuable message to “share the road.” Specialty plates can also be a form of outreach for bicycling advocacy organizations because they are purchased through the state Department of Motor Vehicles or equivalent agency and may expose [unfinished sentence].
Who has them?
Twenty four states have some version of a “Share the Road” plate. In 15 of those states, a bicycling advocacy organization is identified in the law or otherwise to receive funds from the program. In two states, Connecticut and West Virginia, a law is on the books but there is currently no way to purchase the specialty plates.
Where did they come from?
The first state to issue a Share the Road plate was Florida in 1999. For more information on how Share the Road plates began please visit this website: http://sharetheroad.org/the-story/. As of the last revision to the Uniform Vehicle Code (UVC) in 2000, there is no UVC section relevant to the creation and operation of a share the road license plate program.
Spotlight States – Mississippi and Iowa
Mississippi: Mississippi is one of 11 states that designate a bicycling advocacy organization as the recipient of funds produced from the sale of “share the road” specialty license plates. The Mississippi law also gives its chosen bicycling advocacy organization, the Bicycling Advocacy Group of Mississippi, better known as Bike Walk Mississippi, an advisory role in the design of the plates.
Iowa: In Iowa, an organization can get a specialty license plate through either a law or administrative process. The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) sponsored the Iowa Bicycle Coalition to create a specialty plate administratively. The Iowa Bicycle Coalition had complete control over the design of the plates, but had to pre-sell 500 plates in order to complete the administrative process. There are now more than 1,300 Share the Road plates on the road and it is the second highest selling specialty plate in the state.
Click image for the full chart.
Unlike most of the laws highlighted in this series, the laws that enable specialty license plates actively involve a state agency. This can be great because it gets advocacy organizations to work together, but it can also create issues. Some of the issues that appeared as I did research on the subject include:
- Threats to funding dedicated to an organization by statute due to state budget issues
- Administrative complexity related to altering license plate designs
- Costly and time consuming start-up costs related to pre-selling plates
- Costumer confusion regarding whether a plate purchase includes a membership with the organization it benefits
- Lack of information sharing between the issuing state agency and the benefitted organization, so valuable information regarding customers is not available for the benefitted organization’s use
I heard several strategies to address these issues including:
- Partnering with other organizations that benefit from specialty license plates to reform the administrative processes surrounding changing plate designs, information sharing, and start-up or to protect the dedicated nature of funding from plate sales
- Work with the issuing state agency at both state and local levels to ensure that retail outlets have information that effectively presents the specialty plate and its purpose
- Survey members so that they are aware of the specialty plate creation process and the difference between plate purchase and membership
- Dedicate some funding raised through a specialty plate to advertisement and outreach to sell more specialty plates
Questions? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ken McLeodKen joined the League in 2012 after graduating from William & Mary School of Law. He is a licensed attorney in the state of Virginia. During law school he worked for a private law firm in Cambodia and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. Prior to that, Ken worked at a law firm in Orange County and a legal services provider in Seattle. He graduated from Pomona College in 2007 with a BA in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. He began using his bike regularly after college and has been car-free since February 2012.
Legal Specialist, Advocacy Advance