Many drivers of two-wheeled motorized vehicles are breaking the law in the nation’s capital and don’t appear to be facing any consequences for doing so.  

Individuals, many of whom entered the country illegally, are acquiring and driving motorbikes to do food deliveries in the District of Columbia, but many of the bikes do not have legal license plates, indicating they aren’t properly registered or insured. 

D.C. law requires that a motorcycle or a motor-driven cycle, a motor vehicle that has a gas, electric, or hybrid motor no larger than 50 cubic centimeters (cc) and cannot go above 30 mph, be registered with the District’s Department of Motor Vehicles within 30 days of purchase and display a license plate on the back of the two- or three-wheeled vehicle.  

The Daily Signal became aware of an increased number of motor-driven cycles without license plates operating in the District. If operating a motorized bike in the District at speeds above 20 miles per hour, not only does that vehicle require registration, the driver is required to “have on his or her possession a valid [driver’s] license” and insurance, per the city’s Department of Motor Vehicles.   

Illegal aliens can use a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ notice regarding the receipt, rejection, transfer, re-open, or appointment of their application—formally known as a USCIS Notice of Action, or a Form I-797—to acquire “a temporary D.C. DMV [driver’s] license or identification card for the duration of processing time indicated in the notice up to a maximum of 18 months.” 

The Daily Signal launched an investigation to determine whether the drivers of the motor bikes have the legal requirements to operate the motorized bikes, and whether D.C. police are striving to eliminate the operation of vehicles that are not registered in the city. 

The investigation determined that illegal aliens are acquiring motorized bikes through a number of sources and that D.C. police do not appear to be enforcing registration laws.  

Over a week’s time, The Daily Signal spoke with about a dozen motorized bike owners and a D.C. shop selling the bikes. 

Selling the Bikes

Upon visiting an e-bike and motorized cycle retailer, The Daily Signal asked a shop employee whether someone who entered the U.S. illegally could drive a motor-driven cycle without a license. The seller said that in the District, “police don’t give any attention to that.”

The bike shop employee said drivers don’t need a license to operate a 49cc (or lower) bike. He then proceeded to explain that the shop only sells 50+ cc bikes before showing The Daily Signal a drawer full of license plates that read “49cc.”

The seller, unaware that he was speaking to members of the media, said the shop puts “49cc” plates on the bikes to deflect suspicion over the actual motor size.

A 150cc motor-driven cycle in Washington, D.C., with a license plate reading 49cc. (Photo: Tim Kennedy/The Daily Signal)

In addition to requiring license plates, motorized bikes capable of going faster than 20 mph also require insurance, per D.C. law.

Two motor-driven cycles parked at a McDonald’s in the District of Columbia with license plates reading 49cc. (Photo: Tim Kennedy/The Daily Signal)

The Drivers 

The Daily Signal spoke to drivers of motor-driven cycles on the streets of D.C. and asked them about their legal status, whether they have insurance, whether they have registered the bike, and whether police stop them for not having a license plate on their bike. 

The majority of the drivers we spoke with confirmed that they had crossed the southern border illegally. None of the drivers we spoke with, including one U.S. citizen, had legitimate license plates on their motor-driven cycles, despite all of them operating vehicles that legally require a plate. All of the drivers declined to provide their names. 

“How long have you had this bike?” The Daily Signal asked a woman sitting on a motorized vehicle outside a block of fast-food restaurants in the District. 

“Four months,” she said.  

“And how big is this bike? 

“150,” she answered, referring to the motor or engine size.  

A 150cc motor-driven cycle in the District of Columbia. (Photo: Virginia Allen/The Daily Signal)

“It requires registration and insurance?”  

“Yes,” she said—adding that she doesn’t have either.  

“And the police do not bother?” 

“No,” she answered, adding that as long as she wears a helmet and “doesn’t run red lights,” the police do not bother her.  

The female driver was the only driver we spoke with who said she was aware that her vehicle required registration and acknowledged that she had not done so.  

“What do you want to know?” another driver asked, when The Daily Signal approached him, explaining he had food orders to deliver. Again, the news outlet asked how long he had owned the bike and how large the engine was.  

“Three months,” he replied in Spanish, adding that the bike is 150cc. The man said he had been in America for three years.  

Despite the bike displaying no license plate, the man said he has insurance for it and all the legal documentation.  

When asked whether he had been stopped for not having a license plate, he said, “So far, no.”  

Another man, driving a red motorized bike, said his vehicle was 50cc and does not require a license plate, despite D.C. law requiring a plate for such a vehicle. He also said the police have not stopped him.  

A motor-driven cycle in the District of Columbia. (Photo: Tim Kennedy/The Daily Signal)

Another man, who said he was from Venezuela and entered the U.S. through the border in December, told The Daily Signal he was driving a 50cc bike, adding the bike does not require registration or insurance, which is incorrect per D.C. law. The man said he was using his mother’s food-delivery app to deliver orders to customers since “she has papers.” 

The Daily Signal spoke to one food-delivery driver on a 150cc bike who is a U.S. citizen, and like the non-American delivery drivers, he also had no license plate on his bike.  

A 150cc motor-driven cycle in the District of Columbia without a license plate. (Photo: Tim Kennedy/The Daily Signal)

“Bro, to be honest, they don’t even do nothing,” the man told The Daily Signal when asked about the lack of a license plate on his bike. “I just got this one about a year ago,” he said of his bike, adding that he previously had a 50cc bike for two or three years.  

D.C. police treat 50cc and 150cc bikes “the same,” the driver said. “It’s like a weird loophole, bro.” 

The American driver said that until a year and a half ago, there were only two or three other motorized bike drivers doing food deliveries in the northwest section of the District where he works. All other food-delivery drivers were using cars, bicycles, or e-bikes, he said, adding that in the past year, the number of motor-driven cycles has risen to about 1,000, in his estimation.  

The American explained that he opted to get a 150cc bike when so many other drivers were entering his job market with larger bikes that allowed them to deliver food further and faster.  

Response From DC Police

The Daily Signal contacted the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department to find out whether the city was aware of the situation and what was being done to enforce license-plate and insurance laws in the city.  

Those driving motor-driven cycles in D.C. without a license plate are “testing their luck,” Tom Lynch, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Department, told The Daily Signal on Monday.  

Lynch said that it can’t be guaranteed that a police officer has driven past any of the drivers The Daily Signal spoke with, adding that the MPD is actively working to reduce crime and traffic violations in the city.  

“Chief [Pamela] Smith has heard the concerns from the community about traffic safety and is working to strengthen MPD’s traffic enforcement,” a Metropolitan Police Department spokesperson said in a prepared statement Lynch emailed to The Daily Signal. 

“She has committed that the Department will hold at least two high-visibility Traffic Safety Compliance Checkpoints each month in her first year,” the spokesperson said. The D.C. Council confirmed Smith as the new chief in November.  

“So far, MPD has conducted 40 Traffic Safety Compliance Checkpoints across the District. Nearly 19,000 vehicles have passed through these checkpoints, resulting in over 2,600 notice of infractions, 84 arrests and the recovery of 13 firearms,” according to the department’s spokesperson, adding: 

Beyond our Traffic Safety Compliance Checkpoints, our individual police districts, Special Operations Division, and Reserve Corps Unit conduct regular traffic enforcement and education initiatives throughout the city. MPD also regularly partners with police agencies in Montgomery County and Prince George’s County to ensure the safety of major thoroughfares on our borders. These enforcement and education initiatives are specific to reaching the Mayor’s goal of Vision Zero and target speeding, distracted driving, impaired driving, and other violations to reduce the number of traffic fatalities.  

Overall, in 2023, MPD members issued more than 50,000 tickets for traffic violations.  

We ask that the public continue to share any information with the police. The Anonymous Crime Tip Line and Text Tip Line enables members of the public to give the MPD vital information anonymously. Dial (202) 727-9099 or send a text to 50411. 

Editor’s Note: This piece was updated after publication to clarify that the bikes being driven in D.C. are motor-driven cycles, and to correct the definition of a Form I-797.