The U.S. coasts may be known for congestion, but its cutthroat parking lots are breeding corruption.
Dozens of California and New York drivers were penalized recently for the illegal use of handicapped placards, giving them a guaranteed spot at the front of the lot—at a cost to those who truly need it.
The problem is so prevalent in California that Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation earlier this month specifically addressing the issue. Among other initiatives, the new law requires the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to annually check its list of placard holders against the Social Security Administration’s list of deceased, to ensure all holdover cards are canceled. (An April DMV audit found the agency failed to cancel tens of thousands of placards following the death of the person to which they were issued.)
All told, the CA DMV fined 42 permit holders—to the tune of $250-1,000 each—after the April revelation. Over the past 3 years, it’s cited more than 2,000 motorists for misuse of the placards. (About 2.4 million Californians currently have the special parking permits.)
But the widespread abuse isn’t just a West Coast problem.
Thirty New York residents were recently busted for replicating city-issued documents in order to park in special zones. Aside from mimicking handicapped placards, the Empire State group was also accused of using other phony passes to park in lots for the American Red Cross and New York Blood Center, among others.
In one case, a driver reportedly used a fake Law Department placard to take up a spot designated for an ambulette that transports disabled patients to health care facilities.
And just like everything else in New York, the fake permits didn’t come cheap. The placards could fetch up to $2,600 on the black market—and, even at that price, demand was high, said the city commissioner who investigated the incident.
Though every defendant in the case has pleaded “not guilty”, the misdemeanor charges they’ve been hit with could leave them parked in a jail cell for up to a year.
And while states must continue to monitor the problem piecemeal for now—and hope drivers are on their best behavior—in the long run, it could be another issue solved by self-driving cars. Once the technology truly takes over, we may no longer need parking at all.