Traffic Q&A: Are out-of-state disabled placards OK in Washington?

Question: My elderly father visits us from Illinois a few times a year and always brings his handicapped parking placard.

Maybe it’s splitting hairs, but it is technically legal for us to use an Illinois placard in Washington? If not, how do I go about getting a temporary one to use during his visits?

He’s 86 and not very mobile, so we actually do need it during the week he visits.

— Amy H., Tacoma

Answer: There could well be a state where your father’s Illinois card wouldn’t be valid, but Washington isn’t it.

Section 46.61.583 of the Revised Code of Washington grants disabled-parking placards “issued by another state or country” the same privileges as those granted by our own Department of Licensing.

Despite what you might have heard, that also appears to be true for most — perhaps all — of the rest of the United States, although not every state is equally up-front about it.

Oregon’s Department of Motor Vehicles says right on its website that other states’ placards are valid there. We had to call the motor-vehicle licensing offices in Idaho and California to learn that any state-issued placard would hold up as valid there. Should you forget to bring the placard along, California even has a special temporary placard they’ll issue to disabled nonresidents.

If you want to travel elsewhere, the odds are good that your placard will be honored. You’ll need to check with the relevant state’s DMV to be sure. We consulted advocacy groups and government agencies. No one said definitively that every state recognizes every other state’s placard, though several organizations came close.

“Most states will (accept) the blue placard across state lines,” Ahvi Spindell, spokesman for the United Spinal Association, a New York-based national organization, wrote in an email.

What you get with that recognition does vary from place to place.

In Washington State, the placard means you can park in public on-street parking spaces, including metered spaces and those reserved for disabled people, for free.

This doesn’t apply to fire lanes, private parking garages or even Sea-Tac Airport — the airport’s website says posted rates apply there. Other places are similarly mixed affairs. Spindell tells us that New York City doesn’t have on-street disabled parking, and the blue placards have no effect on Big Apple city streets.

The disabled-parking goes back to 1973, but states have tried in recent years to crack down on disabled-parking abuses.

The problems include handing out an immense number of blue placards — 2.6 million of them in California as of 2014, or about 10 percent the total number of cars on the road — and their use in city parking without the disabled person on board, which will earn you a $450 ticket in Washington.

Even Washington, D.C., which had the nation’s first handicapped parking, found in 2012 that 10 city blocks had 40 percent to 91 percent of parked cars with disability placards or license plates.

To combat the abuses, a new law kicked in this summer that made Washington at least the fourth state that, like Illinois, requires a doctor’s statement on letterhead, or a prescription, certifying the disability.

Falsifying that permit is a misdemeanor, and the second offense requires community service to help people with disabilities.

The Washington parking permit for people with permanent disabilities lasts for five years before it requires a renewal, said David Bennett, spokesman for the state Department of Licensing.

Under previous law, all the parking permit application required was a doctor’s license number and a signature on the application sheet.

“It was pretty easily forged,” Bennett said, “because these physician numbers can be found online. And you know how some of these physicians sign their names.”

Derrick Nunnally: 253-597-8693


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