Crackdown on disabled parking placard abuse in Washington state

| August 14, 2013

Volunteers for the Lacey Police Department in Washington state kept having to ask themselves: Were the disabled parking placards they were finding in drivers’ cars valid? Drivers were placing them on vehicle dashboards and then deliberately hiding the expiration date, the volunteers said in their complaints to Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, last year.

The state legislator took up the cause, and sought to develop a strategic plan for ending disabled parking permit abuse, with the legislature recently convening a work group to examine the issue. Led by the state Department of Licensing and including members from the Department of Health, Governor’s Committee on Disability Issues and Employment, as well as the Arc of Washington State, a nonprofit that advocates for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Seattle skyline from a distance

Seattle may be losing millions due to fraudulent accessible parking placards. Image courtesy Papalars.

The group also includes representatives from the City of Seattle, where local officials have noted significant disabled parking permit abuse. Indeed, it may be more widespread there than in any other community in the state. In 2010, a report issued by the city found that 30 to 40 percent of parked cars on any given day in its downtown display disabled parking placards — but at least 10 percent of those are inactive.

Because state laws allow vehicles with placards to park for free at parking meters, motorists with fraudulent or expired permits cost Seattle millions of dollars in lost revenue. According to its City Auditor’s Office, which released a report earlier this summer, Seattle could be losing as much as $1.4 million annually.

The problem has only gotten worse, according to the report, which cites a 2010 change to state law as a factor. Previously, the wrongful use of a disabled parking placard was considered a traffic violation. Today enforcement officials can only issue a parking citation for the same infraction, which means they can no longer confiscate the placard nor identify the violator, making it difficult to track repeat offenders. The citation carries a fine of $250.

Moreover, the parking enforcement unit that the Seattle Police Department had assigned to monitor placard abuse was disbanded in the last two years. Whereas 446 citations for placard abuse were issued in 2010, just 10 were issued in the first eight months of 2012.

Compounding the problem are increased parking rates, which city auditors speculate may be driving the placard abuse.

Cristina Van Valkenburgh, who manages the city’s mobility program, is hoping that the state work group can help ensure that “folks with real disabilities are getting an opportunity to park as needed,” she told news outlets.

The group, which has met three times so far, is still gathering information. It plans to make recommendations to lawmakers on December 1 and is examining a range of options, such as more closely monitoring physicians who provide the certification that the state, which issues the placards, requires in the application process for a disability parking permit. Other possibilities include developing a system that allows others to better determine a placard’s validity.

Those interested in offering feedback can email the state work group at [email protected].  

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Category: Enforcement, Handicapped parking, Parking management, State

About the Author ()

Cielo Lutino is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn, NY. She has written for such publications as the L Magazine and Portland Monthly, and her literary nonfiction has appeared in journals such as the Los Angeles Review and Cold Mountain Review.

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