For drivers with disabilities, one sight is almost guaranteed to send their blood pressure soaring: a healthy looking young person bouncing out of a car after taking the last disabled parking spot.
Yes, some people have disabilities that aren’t readily visible. But we’ve all seen instances where a person using a disabled parking placard or driving a car with a handicapped license plate was obviously not disabled. They apparently think that because Grandma has the placard or license plate, anyone driving the vehicle is entitled to the convenient parking spaces reserved for the disabled.
Abuse of disabled parking is a particularly bad problem in many cities. Parking there may be expensive and hard to find, and the temptation to illegally use a disabled placard can be harder to resist.
According to the Everett Herald, a 2010 Seattle report found that on any given day, up to 40 percent of parking spaces were taken up by vehicles using disabled parking permits. More than 10 percent of those placards were inactive (temporary placards are only good for six months), and who knows how many were being used by someone not authorized to have one.
A placard allows drivers to park free for an unlimited time – even in metered spaces not designated for disabled parking. So parking scoffllaws not only make it harder for genuinely disabled people to find parking, but they’re also cheating cities out of parking revenue.
Now the state is trying to come to grips with how big the problem really is and what could be done to address it. A work group has been meeting and is expected to make recommendations by Dec. 1.
The panel, which is led by the Department of Licensing, includes representatives from the Department of Health, the Governor’s Committee on Disability Issues and Employment, The Arc of Washington and the City of Seattle.
According to the Herald, the group will consider actions ranging from closer oversight of the medical professionals who sign off on a person’s need for a disabled pass to coming up with a better system for determining whether placards are valid. Enforcement officers have complained that drivers often position the placard to hide its expiration date.
The fine for unauthorized use of a disabled placard or license is a hefty $250, but that doesn’t seem to be much of a deterrent. As the region grows more congested and parking becomes even tighter around transit centers and in urban centers, tougher enforcement of rules regarding disabled parking is increasingly essential.