Fraudulent Use of Disabled Parking Placards on the Rise

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

Handicapped Parking: A Guilt-Free Zone

Savoring the Privilege of Walking


Photo of disabled parking placards from Alberta by woody1778a.


jane richmond
jane richmond6 years ago

If you NEED it USE it. These placards should not be abused. Abuse will only make it more difficult for the legitimate users. The abusers will always find a way to park for free or in disabled spots.

Diane L.
Diane L6 years ago

Callie, I agree with Christopher............well said, Christopher! You didn't say why you have "diffculty"...........are you truly disabled or just have developed problems because of lack of activity? Not accusing you, just asking. I've seen many people who are riding around in motorized shopping carts that CAN get up and walk, just don't want to because they're so grossly obese, they find it easier to "ride". To me, those are the very people who SHOULD be walking.

I had total knee replacement in late February. I couldn't drive (doctor's orders) for a month and for two weeks, my oldest grandson had to drive me to the store and I had to use a walker. He'd let me out at the front door, and after 2 weeks, I told him to park wherever he found a spot and I'd walk from there. I found it forced me to use my new knee and develop enough muscle strength to recover twice as fast as expected. If I'd continued to use the walker and the handicapped permit that my doctor gave me, I'd probably still be limping around. I'm back to being about 99% "normal", and I'm not a "spring chicken" by any means.

christopher murray

@ Callie J
Then don't go out. Listen, I have a neighbor who is 87 years old, has had both knees and a hip repalced. He walks 10 miles a day, even though he qualifies to park in handicapped parking. He has refused from the DMV to issued validation to park in those spots. He feels that sometimes, people bond with their disability, instead of trying to defeat it. And special parking places is a way to bond with your disability, and not defeat it.

Frank Zheng
Frank Zheng6 years ago

Disabled people should still pay for parking meters, no excuses. Just because they are disabled they get to park for free? How does that make it easier to travel?

Callie J.
Callie Johnson6 years ago

@Christopher, if it weren't for the disabled parking spots I'd rarely go anywhere. I have too much difficulty walking. If I have to cross a parking lot, that uses up most of the energy I need for inside the store. I'd gotten very "housebound" before I got the placard; now that I have it I feel I have a more normal life again.

Carole F.
Carole f6 years ago

I agree this is irritating to me when someone gets out of their car and looks around to make sure that no one sees they are in a handicapped space and are not elligible. I do know that some individuals may not present with an obvious condition that may warrant using the tag and space, but a young, fit person jumping out of a sports car to rush inside to pick up something quickly is definitely a suspicious sight!

Members of my family have a special tag and are eligible, but refuse to use it unless it's a bad day for them. My 87 year old mom will walk as often as possible. "save those spaces for people who need them" she says!

Judith Corrigan
Judith Corrigan6 years ago

In the UK some people don't even bother trying to 'borrow' someone elses disabled badge, they just park in the disabled spot and not give a damn

Pat Hippert
Patricia H6 years ago

I use the handicap parking spots due to having COPD and lung cancer. I have had people question me on why I am parking in the spot since I obviously am not stroller, walker etc. I could take my cane along when I go somewhere..but why should I have to do that? I can walk 1/4 a block..and then I have to stop and catch my fun when you live in Minnesota in the winter.

Armand F.
Armand F6 years ago

Bill C., I have had the opportunity to find some of the same defective stems when someone without a placard or disabled plates parks in a disabled slot. Both my spouse and I qualify for plates based on our numerous disabilities so it angers me to no end to see our slots misused. My best friend, also disabled taught me how to identify these defective stems. It is a lesson well learned and relatively easy to spot them.

Mary Lou Pearce
Mary Lou Pearce6 years ago

For those who need disabled parking spaces, they do pay a fee to have a pass here in Canada, so when someone without a pass decides they will take the spot that myself and my husband paid a fee to use, that just irritates the h**l outta me. If you feel they just emphasize your disability, don't use 'em! My husband is a military vet and deserves the pass we have and to have access to to a space.