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Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Backlash Against Handicapped Parking Offenders
Taking her 92-year-old grandfather to a California hospital, Maureen Birdsall lost the only handicapped-parking spot available to a woman in a red corvette—who didn't appear to be disabled.
Birdsall is not the only person fuming at apparently healthy people who illegally park in the handicapped parking spaces. She created a Web site, http://www.handicappedfraud.org, where people in 26 states have posted similar complaints. The postings contain the license plate and handicapped-permit numbers of vehicles that have allegedly used handicapped spaces illegally. Birdsall forwards the information to motor vehicle departments.
Whistle-blower Web sites are popping up all over the country as residents, states, and towns crack down on the healthy people who park in spaces reserved for the disabled because the spaces are closest to building entrances.
Fines have increased to at least $250 from $40 in the southwest Ohio city of Xenia. In Corpus Christi, Texas, citizen volunteers patrol parking lots to ticket offenders.
Waltham, Mass., has spent about $6,000 in grant money for police overtime to employ a police squad that is responsible only for enforcing handicapped-parking laws. The city has recouped nearly $32,000 in fines.
In nearly every state, those with handicapped placards (a plastic tag that hangs from the rearview mirror), plates or stickers are allowed to park in designated handicapped spaces and many times can park for free at a meter.
But it is against the law to borrow another person's placard and use it unless the handicapped person is in the vehicle. It's also against the law to use the placard of a deceased person.
Tim Gilmer, editor of New Mobility, a magazine for wheelchair users with active lifestyles, said that governments are getting tougher because more placards are in circulation and the public has become more aware of their abuse.
Terry Moakley, a United Spinal Association spokesman said that disabled people have become more vocal about their needs.
"People just don't want to settle for no access or second-rate access," Moakley said.
After a yearlong investigation, Massachusetts is urging its police to crack down after law officials discovered that almost one-third of the placards found on cars parked in downtown Boston were employed by those who were not disabled.
"It strikes a nerve with people," said spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles Ann Dufresne. "They are taking spots away from those people who really need it."
In Chillicothe, Ohio, Laura Long occasionally parks in the spaces even though she is not disabled, because, in her view, there usually are a lot of open spaces and she doesn't feel she is taking the spot away from a disabled person.
"I'll do it late at night if I need to pop in somewhere and don't want to park far away," she said.
Complaints about more blatant violators are seen on Birdsall's Web site.
An unnamed person from Burlingame, Calif. wrote: "I could not get close enough to the Chevy Tahoe SUV to get the tag numbers, but should have asked the driver unloading the bags of concrete and other construction supplies from the rear."
Postings that involve suspected fraud are inspected by the California motor vehicles department reviews, but urges the Web site operators to refer other suspected violations to police.
Just because people don't appear to be disabled doesn't mean they aren't, said department spokesman Mike Marando. For example, he said some people with heart conditions or lung disease, have legitimate handicapped permits.
The city of Corpus Christi plans to double the size of its citizens parking patrol, which was formed after the city received numerous complaints about violations, to 16 members.
In the first seven months of 2007, the volunteers, who drive marked police cruisers, wrote 40 percent of the 876 handicapped no-parking tickets.
Volunteer Cheryl Daubs has a 79-year-old disabled mother. Daubs usually works four to eight hours a week trolling parking lots, as well as trouble spots such as hospitals, movie theaters and shopping malls.
The motive is to educate people, Daubs said. For example, she decided to void a ticket for a man and warn him instead, in the hopes that it would be the last time he parks in a handicapped spot.
Phillip Shaw, 62, of Xenia, Ohio, broke his back in 1980, and walking long distances is painful.
Although he has a sticker that gives him access to handicapped-parking spaces, he says there aren't that many in the city and motorists who don’t appear to be disabled often occupy them.
"For someone who just uses it for convenience, I think they ought to be fined," he said.
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