Earlier this month, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) cracked down on the illegal use of disability parking placards. The initial sweep took place in Sacramento, yielding 13 citations in just one day.
A group of plainclothes CA DMV enforcement officers patrolled city blocks surrounding the Capitol. Anytime someone parked in a disabled parking spot, the officers checked the name registered to the license plate against the name printed on the disabled placard.
If the names didn’t match, the officers would then wait—sometimes for hours—for the driver to return to their car.
“To prove it's yours you simply have to have the registration card for the plate and your identity, or you have to have the placard ID card," Tom Edwards, DMV Investigations central area commander, said in an interview.
While most people used the placards legally, those who received a ticket for using a coworker’s or family member’s placard could end up paying up to $1,000 in fines.
According to California state vehicle code, it’s a misdemeanor violation to:
- Lend your disabled placard to someone else.
- Drive/park with a disabled placard UNLESS you’re transporting the person registered to the placard.
Margaret Johnson, an advocacy director with Disability Rights California, is glad the DMV has begun putting its foot down on the illegal use of disabled parking placards.
“We don’t have a problem with the DMV going out at all,” she said in an interview. “People may be parking in spaces that people with disabilities really need.”
While a $1,000 fine may seem steep for displaying a false placard, the repercussions of illegally taking a handicap parking spot are bigger than you may think. In California alone, around 2.5 million people have permanent disabled placards—that’s more than 1 in 8 drivers.
With such a large group of people carrying placards, the need for available disabled parking spots grows every day. However, the staggering number of CA residents legally carrying disabled placards also calls for a closer look at policies surrounding placard issuance.
Earlier this week, two California assemblymen, Eric Linder and Mike Gatto, called for an audit of the DMV’s system for distributing disabled placards. The audit will seek answers to questions like:
- Are doctors signing off on placards for people who really aren’t disabled?
- Are people receiving more than one placard?
- What are people doing with the placards of the deceased?
“You have unethical members of the public that are willing to take these spots away from those that need them,” Gatto said. “You probably have doctors that should not be issuing these placards unless [the patients] truly are disabled and then you have the government failing [at compliance]. The DMV should be stronger in how they handle the program.”
With pressure coming from California lawmakers AND the public, the DMV will need to continue to monitor how disabled placards are being issued AND used.
In the meantime, you can do your part by keeping an eye out for those illegally using disabled placards. If you suspect someone’s misusing a placard, call any of the following:
- General CA DMV phone line: (800) 777-0133.
- Your nearest Department of Motor Vehicles investigation office.
- The non-emergency number for the local police.
Don’t hesitate to notify the authorities—at the end of the day, you could end up saving someone who truly needs an accessible parking spot a lot of trouble.