We’ve all had that day, you know the one; it’s raining, it’s cold, you’re running late, you have 10 minutes to make it to the store before it closes and there is only one parking spot open, the spot reserved for the handicapped. Thinking it’ll just be this one time, promising yourself you will never to do it again, you park the car and make a mad dash inside.
Think again. States and counties across the country are cracking down on handicapped fraud. Due to an increase in the use of phony placards (tags that hang from the rearview mirror) and fake license plates, fines for illegally using and abusing handicapped spots are increasing and license suspension is not out of the question.
Ohio resident and founder of HandicappedFraud.org Maureen Birdsall, told USA Today that she had lost the only available handicapped parking spot to a woman in a red corvette. She was taking her 92-year- old grandfather to the hospital and could not find a spot near enough to the door.
“I sat there dumbfounded,” she said.
After starting the website, Birdsall realized she was not alone in her frustration in seemingly healthy people parking in handicapped spaces. Quickly, the site received postings from people in 26 states with similar complaints.
How the site works is simple and provides step by step actions to take when you notice a seemingly able bodied person parking in a handicapped spot: Don’t confront the person (they may actually have a disability), record their license plate and placard number and leave a post-it note on their car that says they have been reported at HandicappedFraud.org. Birdsall hopes to have hundreds or even thousands of uploads of these fraudulent placards on the site at the end of every month in order to create a report to be given to that state’s DMV. The DMV will then have the opportunity to recognize trends and track the placard number to the doctor and patient. If abuse is detected, further action can happen. Both actions will bring awareness and change to a problem that only shows signs of increasing.
The site is part of a crackdown in which the impact can be felt nationwide. In Illinois for example, an advisory committee on traffic safety, headed by Secretary of State Jesse White recommended a $2,500 fine and a one-year license suspension for offenders, including drivers who use rear-view mirror placards or disability license plates of disabled people who have died.
One town in Massachusetts dedicates police details to do nothing but enforce handicapped-parking laws. The city has spent about $6,000 in grant money for overtime but received about $32,000 back in fines.
Phillip Shaw, 62, of Xenia, Ohio, has difficulty walking long distances after he broke his back in 1980. He uses a sticker that allows him to park in a handicapped spot, but he said that there aren’t many in the city and he sometimes finds them occupied by people who don’t appear to be disabled.
Shaw said, “For someone who just uses them for convenience, I think they ought to be fined.”
Next time you think about taking the handicapped spot simply for ease, it may be worth your while, and your wallet, to think twice and move on.