California has 24 million licensed drivers and, according to the Los Angeles Times, will issue 2.1 million permanent placards this year. That’s a significant increase over the 1.2 million placards issued just a decade ago. Furthermore, about 621,000 of nearly 6 million licensed drivers in Los Angeles County have placards.
According to state motor vehicle officers, fraudulent use of the placards is rising:
With 1 in 10 California drivers now legally registered to carry the passes, transportation experts say abuse has become commonplace. At any given moment, on any given street, more than a third of the vehicles displaying the tags — and parking without paying — are doing so illegally, say officials with the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
Under California law, drivers who display the placards can park in a metered space for free for an unlimited amount of time. A relative or friend can use the placard, provided that the person holding the placard “accompany that person or be within ‘reasonable proximity’”:
individuals with missing or paralyzed extremities, impaired vision or heart, circulatory or lung disease to park conveniently and for as long as necessary to visit doctors or run errands. A disabled placard may be prescribed by, among others, a medical doctor, a nurse practitioner, a certified nurse midwife, a physician’s assistant, a chiropractor or an optometrist.
But with metered spaces now costing as much as $4 an hour, the temptation to misuse a friend’s or relative’s placard — even a dead one’s — can be great.
The Los Angeles Times cites some cases in which motor vehicle officers have confiscated placards in a “crackdown” because of what seem to be instances of people flouting the law:
[A] driver cited by DMV investigators in Beverly Hills had just emerged from a Camden Drive fitness center to her expired meter. She told officers that she had earlier dropped her mother at a doctor’s office, and her mother confirmed that via cellphone. Nonetheless, an investigator confiscated the placard, saying the woman had “personally garnered a benefit” by using it to park for free while she exercised.
Those who are able-bodied and fraudulently use disabled parking placards do a real disservice to everyone else. Not only are they taking up parking spaces for unlimited amounts of time. Even more, they are taking a parking place from someone who truly needs it.
Officers in California cannot ask a motorist why she or he has a placard due to privacy laws; they have to make something of a judgment call in deciding whether to confiscate a placard or not. At least one disability rights group, Disability Rights California in Sacramento, notes that discussions about changing the vehicle code haven’t gotten far because of resistance from advocates.” Disability Rights California’s advocacy director, Margaret Johnson, indeed says that “an overhaul of the code could potentially ‘screw over [disabled] people.’”
As it is, individuals with disabilities using the placards have — in a huge irony — been themselves questioned by law officers. Not everyone who uses one of the red or blue placards has a “visible,” physical disability. Someone might have an “invisible” disability such as multiple sclerosis that makes mobility difficult and, therefore, very much necessitates a placard. As an officer may not ask why the person has a placard, he might simply confiscate it based on a misunderstanding.
California, says the Los Angeles Times, has designated a day this spring for a statewide placard enforcement day. Care2 blogger Ann Pietrangelo has written a helpful post about getting a disabled parking placard and what you should know about it. As she writes:
There’s nothing quite so irritating as watching a perfectly healthy-looking person step out from a handicapped parking space and stroll into the store. But things are not always as they seem.
People with multiple sclerosis often appear healthy and strong even though they have difficulty walking for any length of time. Problems with fatigue, stamina, balance, and coordination can interfere with daily activities, but there are tools at our disposal that can make normal daily errands much easier. One of those is the handicapped parking placard.
If you have difficulty walking or standing for more than a few minutes, you might want to consider applying for a placard. The ability to park close to a place of business or shopping center could make all the difference in the world when it comes to maintaining a sense of independence.
Previous Care2 Coverage
Photo of disabled parking placards from Alberta by woody1778a.