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Editor's Corner: Some using handicapped parking are frauds

One of the worst scams being perpetrated against handicapped people in the State of California has been uncovered, and it’s a doozy.

A Bureau of State Audits report has discovered that hundreds of thousands of handicapped license plates and placards are being used fraudulently by motorists who aren’t handicapped.

This is happening in Madera, as in most cities.

An informal survey in two shopping center parking lots last month determined that misuse of these plates and placards, meant to help motorists who have a difficult time walking, or who have to use wheelchairs, is widespread.

Some examples: In one shopping center, at least two handicapped parking spots near a large hardware store were used over a period of about 30 minutes by:

  • A vehicle which displayed neither a handicapped plate nor a placard. The driver hopped out of his pickup, walked into the store and returned later carrying a package, displaying no symptoms whatever of an inability to walk.

  • At about the same time, another pickup, this one displaying a placard on its rearview mirror, parked in a nearby handicapped spot. The driver hopped down from the cab of the truck and strolled effortlessly into the store, returning later with boards over one shoulder and a sack in his hand. The only place he seemed to be handicapped was in his brain.

That’s because the fine for misuse of a handicapped parking place can be from $250 to $1,000. A misdemeandor conviction also can lead to six months in the county jail, according to the state statute.

If you forge a handicapped parking placard, or attempt to pass a false, forged or counterfeit handicapped parking placard as genuine, you can be punished by a fine ranging from $500 to $1,000, and up to six months in a county jail.

And if the obviously able-bodied man in the pickup had lied to the Department of Motor Vehicles in order to obtain a placard, he could get the same punishment, up to $1,000 fine and six months in the county jail.

From the California Vehicle Code, Section 4461:

In the state of California, a handicapped parking placard is recognized as a blue placard with a white wheelchair symbol issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles. A handicapped parking placard can be prescribed by a medical doctor, a nurse practitioner, a certified nurse midwife, a physician’s assistant, a chiropractor or an optometrist. The misuse of a handicapped parking placard is also known as handicapped parking fraud. Under California Vehicle Code Section 44611, it is illegal for a person to:

  • Lend a validly issued handicapped parking placard to another person who is not entitled to use it.

  • Knowingly permit another person who is not otherwise entitled to use a handicapped parking placard to use it.

  • Display a handicapped parking placard that was not issued to you by the DMV or cancelled or revoked by the DMV.

  • Drive another person’s car that displays a valid handicapped parking placard and park in a parking spot reserved for disabled persons

For example, your mother is disabled and has a valid handicapped parking placard. You use your mother’s car (which has the handicapped parking placard) to go to the store for her while she stays at home to rest. You can’t find a parking spot so you park in a handicapped spot for 10 minutes while you are in the store. You can be charged for handicapped parking fraud under Vehicle Code Section 4461. High-volume areas where the misuse of handicapped parking placards is common include mall parking lots, college campuses and business districts. These laws do not apply for people who actively transport disabled persons, according to information from the Orange County law firm of Wallin & Klarich.

In a second Madera parking lot, that of a supermarket, a nearly new SUV pulled into a handicapped parking space. There was no sign of a placard or a handicapped license plate. The driver, a young woman, hopped out, headed for the entrance, grabbed a shopping cart on the way and entered the store. When she emerged a few minutes later, she was carrying a loaded paper sack in each hand. She, like the pickup driver, apparently also had a handicapped brain.

Some people wonder whether abuse of handicapped parking privileges is very high up on the law enforcement priorities of Madera or any other Valley city, and the answer is that people have to report suspected violations to the local police or to the DMV, and be willing to appear in court if necessary.

But you can bet the DMV, after this state report, is not going to ignore handicapped parking abuse in the future as it has in the past.

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