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