Battling Handicapped Parking Abuse

Battling Handicapped Parking Abuse

So here is the breakdown of a frustrating situation that I dealt with about a month ago: The greater Minneapolis region had just been hit with the first blizzard of the new winter season, and consequently most parking lots were covered with snow, even after multiple plowings. On this day, I needed to make a run to Target and I specifically chose my parking spot because it was the one where the striped area next to it was clearest. In other words, even a handicapped parking novice could see that they should not park on the striped area of that particular spot.

As I returned to my van with my shopping bags I was greeted with a SUV parked on the striped area. They had a handicapped placard, but in that instance they were still parked illegally because the stripes mean no parking. The engine was running and someone was sitting in the passenger seat. I was just about to rap on the window and ask the person to move the truck, but with my keen disability eye I quickly assessed that the guy riding shotgun had severe cerebral palsy (side note: anyone who leaves such a vulnerable adult in an open vehicle with the engine running should be turned in for some form of disability abuse). So obviously that guy was going to be of no help moving the truck. Thus, I had to just sit there and wait on the sidewalk for the driver to return.

The fact that they left the engine running suggested that I would not be waiting long, and after a few minutes the driver returned. As soon as I figured it out it was her I very quickly blurted out, “That’s not a parking spot!” Exercising pure ignorance of the situation she simply waved her hand at me and got into the truck without a word, as if to say “Whatever.” As soon as her truck backed out of the spot I dropped my ramp in time for her to see the tough situation her ignorant parking had put me in. With zero contrition she looked at my ramp, then me, and drove off, uncaring about what she had done.

This anecdote is just a microcosm of the rampant illegal handicapped parking abuse that has swept the country. What happened to me goes on every day, in every parking lot across the country. It’s part and parcel of what makes even quick, routine shopping trips for a wheelchair user like myself who has a van with a ramp a challenge-it’s akin to playing handicapped parking Russian roulette.

Handicapped parking abusers use friends’ or family members’ placards, steal them, or even buy them on the black market to get free, close parking. Many change the expiration date so they can extend its life. In extremely shady cases people continue to use a deceased relative’s placard. It’s out of hand and it has a number of crappy consequences, such as forces someone like me to park far away or not park at all because all of the spots are taken and/or get my van parked in, which can put me in a real tough spot (e.g. waiting in the cold for the violator to move their vehicle). It sucks.

So what can be done about it? Well in short, not much-and that’s where the aggravation comes in. In an example like mine calling the police is essentially fruitless because it is considered such a low level crime that by the time a squad car would arrive on the scene the offender would be long gone. Ditto for the police cruising parking lots and making sure that handicapped parking placards are current and used by the correct person.

However, a number of jurisdictions across the country have started doing some interesting things to battle back. Some have enacted volunteer enforcement groups that monitor handicapped parking and have the power to write tickets. I love that idea so much that I wrote a research paper about it in law school. The biggest deterrent from abuse is the constant threat of penalty (e.g. fines), and these groups help that cause. Speaking of fines, some cities have voted to increase handicapped parking fines, in some cases up to three times the previous amount to deter violators. Some cities are making changes to their disability parking placards so that the real ones are more easily detectable than the fake ones. Even smarter, some cities are going so far as to put the placard holder’s picture ID on the placard, so if nobody in the car matches the photo ID then boom-busted! And of course, there’s even an app for that. The Parking Mobility app literally puts the power to write tickets for handicapped parking in the palm of your hands. If you see a violator you snap a few pics, write down their license plate/placard number, write a short summary of how they are cheating, and hit submit. That info goes to the local authorities and tickets get sent out. It’s pretty awesome. I have it on my phone and I’ve been waiting with baited breath for Minneapolis to get on board with this sweet app. A night of cruising parking lots and ticketing illegal parkers sounds like a great time to me. Payback, baby!

Of course, I have my own ideas to help wage the war on handicapped parking abuse. In fact, when I started blogging almost 5 years ago one of the handful of initial blog post ideas was my “handicapped parking manifesto.” It consists of some of the following:

  • If you have a permanent disability and do most of your driving in the same vehicle then you should get disability plates instead of a placard. That reduces the ability to loan the placard out.
  • If you are chauffeuring the person with the disability and they don’t get out of the car while you run into the store, then don’t use handicapped parking. If the person with the disability doesn’t get out of the vehicle then there is no actual need to use that spot.
  • Make people renew their expired disability placards/license plates with a new doctor’s note in person at the DMV every time. Many people can renew online or other ways where there is no way of proving that they are the person who has the disability. Thus the cheaters perpetually keep possession of active placards. The blowback is that this forces people with severe disabilities/the elderly to run around town, but I think it would go far to weed out the cheaters.
  • Expand the innovations I mentioned earlier- volunteer enforcement groups, specialized placards, and for the love of all that is good have cities uniformly adopt a sweet app like Parking Mobility. The more identifiable handicapped parking cheaters are (aside from seeing an able-bodied person clearly misusing a placard) and the more you put the power to ticket offenders in the Average Joe’s hands the more they will get busted and get deterred from cheating going forward.

Regardless, handicapped parking cheating is so rampant that anything we do to battle back will be an uphill fight-but I’ll never stop fighting.

Photo source: Truline Striping

7 replies
  1. Tonia A Hodgins
    Tonia A Hodgins says:

    In New Jersey there is a fine for illegally parking in a handicap spot. It is also a mandatory court appearance. I have had MS for 18years and use a wheelchair. My placard fell off and I received a ticket. I had to appear in court and spent 5hours until my case was called. One would think that would deter people but it doesn’t! Besides many people have a placard and do not have a disability! I’m about 20min outside NYC and it’s the same here as it is in Minneapolis. Ignorant people are everywhere!

  2. Shawn Dean
    Shawn Dean says:

    That’s rough, and great, but makes a great deterrent even i you don’t think it does. Anybody, who goes though what you did will definitely think twice about doing it again. And yes they are!

  3. Seneca Davis
    Seneca Davis says:

    I know all too well of the torment that some able bodied people will inflict on the handicap. Walmart is the perfect breeding grounds for these violations. The police will pass up cars that deliberatly park in the striped are

  4. Beth Anne Cochran
    Beth Anne Cochran says:

    I feel your frustration, especially with the striped areas. That gets on my LAST nerve. I have many, many spinal abnormalities that confine me to a wheelchair on most occasions. However, please remember that we cannot judge from appearance who is disabled and who is not. For instance, there are good days and bad days for me – some days mean I spend all my time in bed or my wheelchair. The good days mean I can walk (and no one can tell I have a disability other than a slight limp that most people don’t pick up on and I walk slightly slower than others). Also, my disability was invisible for years and I had a valid and legal handicap placard (and still do). You wouldn’t believe the abuse I receive from all types of people (still, when I am not using a wheelchair on a rare occasion), including those in wheelchairs themselves. I’ve been yelled at, glared at (EVERY time I walk and park) and have had notes left on my windshield. So I encourage anyone that has ever judged anyone else in a handicap spot who LOOKS able-bodied to step back and let law enforcement do their job. If you are concerned about it – don’t take care of it yourself, but call law enforcement. It’s so terribly hurtful to have your life overtaken by people that constantly judge, even after I’m in the store (after they’ve seen me park). I do appreciate your post. Thank you for taking action in your city on handicap parking. I wish I could devote that time to do that in my city, but our law enforcement could care less….it happens ALL the time.

  5. Shawn Dean
    Shawn Dean says:

    Historically, I have rarely said anything to seemingly illegal handicapped parkers because as a person with a disability myself I am keenly aware of hidden disabilities and don’t want to stick my foot in my mouth. Only in situations like the one I laid out in this post will I say something, because whether thy have a disability or not they are parked illegally. And if they have a disability they DEFINITELY should know better to not park on the stripe.

  6. Beth Anne Cochran
    Beth Anne Cochran says:

    I agree completely. I was referring to legal handicap parking. You mentioned at one point “aside from seeing an able-bodied person clearly misusing a placard” – for instance, one with an allergy to the sun can have a legal handicap placard (issued to them), need it just as much as we do, and run into a store. There is no way to “clearly” identify a “misused” handicap placard. Yes, you did say “aside”, but you also said an “able-bodied person clearly misusing a handicap decal.” (Like I said, not every able-bodied person misuses a handicap decal.) That’s why I made the comment above. Thanks for hearing me out. :)

  7. Trisha
    Trisha says:

    one of the most frustrating things of my life is parking! my blood pressure goes up every time we head to school to find a parking spot! i approached a lady once that clearly was not handicap and neither was her son. she had no placard or plate that said so either. her response, “oh i know, we are super late” oh okay then show your children it is totally legit to break the law because you can’t get to school on time! bravo!!!

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