Stolen Handicapped Placards and Projects to End the Crime.by RNE submissions on 09/01/17
By Joanna Mechlinski
On a recent trip to the supermarket, I happened to park my car outside a vehicle with wide open windows. As I walked past it, I noticed a handicapped hangtag lying on the seat in full view. Were I so inclined, I could have put my arm right into the car and taken the hangtag with virtually no effort.
Many people who utilize handicapped parking do so grudgingly. They want to be just like everyone else, in navigating the outside world as in all things. It’s only when they find themselves at a point where they can no longer walk easily across a parking lot or busy downtown area that they finally admit they need a little help. So it’s a bit difficult for most to imagine that there are able-bodied people out there who
would take their hangtag in a heartbeat.
The most obvious perk, of course, is parking closer to your destination. But another benefit is that with a
handicapped placard, drivers are exempt from paying the parking meter. As many individuals with chronic illness or disability are unable to work and thus on limited income, this makes sense. In addition, some meters are inaccessible to people who use wheelchairs.
Washington DC began a new approach earlier this year, tackling handicapped parking abuse by having all vehicles pay. This, city officials said, would eliminate much of the motive for able-bodied individuals “borrowing” the hangtags of family or friends, or even outright stealing them. However, some argue
that this also may restrict access to downtown for those with legitimate limitations, as they are now being forced to pay for parking from limited disability income. What’s more, that may be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In recent years, many U.S. cities and states have attempted to curb handicapped parking abuse. New Mexico, Massachusetts and South Carolina, among other states, require hangtags to display the owner’s photo. Other areas include barcodes on their tags, making it easier to track the original owner. In June 2014, Baltimore launched ProjectSPACE – similar to Washington DC’s plan - to tackle the problem in their area. City leaders told CBS Baltimore than an estimated 2,000 handicapped placards were stolen annually in their area. After the implementation of Phase I, the number dropped to only a
few per month. This past spring, the city implemented Phase IV, reaching out to yet another part of the city.
So perhaps you’ve noticed someone parking illegally in a handicapped spot; perhaps you even know someone who “borrows” another person’s tag on a regular basis. What can you do? You can report it to the police or DMV, of course. You can also notify HandicappedFraud.org, which seeks to publicize and shame offenders. Founded in 2007, the site also notes problem areas, sharing the information with city
officials for potential action. It also offers information to individuals about their rights under ADA.