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Orlando gets tough on abusers of disabled parking permits

| July 12, 2013

At nearly 3 a.m. before the Fourth of July weekend, Judith Beal found herself facing jail time for illegally using a disabled parking permit in downtown Orlando.

Police had spotted her Chevrolet in a handicapped parking spot late on a Saturday and grew suspicious. They ran the placard hanging from her window and discovered it belonged to someone who had died months before. As Beal’s car was being towed, she ran out yelling at the officers, who placed her under arrest.

Disabled parking spot in Florida

Accessible parking in Florida is a more pressing matter than in many other states – it’s home to a famously high proportion of elderly motorists. From Richard Elzey.

“Extreme,” is how driver Erika Ceballos described the officers’ reaction, but police say they want to crack down more on those abusing the handicapped parking permit system.

Their move extends a trend among Florida regulators, who have been passing increasingly tougher legislation addressing disabled parking permits. In October 2012, for example, holders of permanent disabled parking permits—the blue placards that hang from the rear view mirrors of handicapped users’ cars—were told that they would need to recertify their disability with a certified medical professional in order to renew or replace lost, stolen, or damaged permits. Renewals are required every four years.

“This is a step in the right direction,” said Kevin Berry, chair of the Southwest Florida Americans with Disabilities Board, at the time. “I wish it was every two years instead of four, but it is a step in the right direction.”

The same legislation also allowed the state’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to accept calls reporting abuse of permits.

Handicap parking permit

From’s handicapped department.

The laws were passed at a time when the system was experiencing high rates of abuse. In 2010, for instance, Palm Beach and Broward counties issued 865 tickets to drivers for illegally parking in handicapped spaces—some used a disabled relative’s permit; others left their cars in handicapped parking spots with no permit at all while they ran errands.

“It’s more than frustrating,” said Karen Dresback, president of the south Florida chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, to the press at the time. “They’re really hurting the people who need it the most.”

Authorities attributed the especially high numbers of violations to the legions of parking-enforcement volunteers who patrol their routes looking for abusers of the system. “This is the one ticket that we get applause for,” said Bill Johansen, a volunteer with the Broward Sheriff’s Office, at the time.

But there are some who suggest that disability parking placards should be eliminated altogether. Last September Michael Manville of Cornell and Jonathan Williams of Fehr & Peers, a transportation consultancy, argued in the Journal of Planning Education and Research that, in addition to fraud, disability parking permits weaken priced-parking programs and fail to assist the neediest members of the disabled community.

Many disability parking permit programs allow users to park for free at meters, noted Manville and Williams. (Permit holders in Florida can park for free for up to four hours.) This policy means states forfeit parking revenue, which translates into significant losses when the high incidence of fraud is considered.

Handicapped parking only sign on textured wall

Accessible parking only. From CarFuseo.

Manville and Williams instead suggested that states eliminate their disability parking permit programs, leaving the increased parking revenue to be channeled to other programs, such as paratransit service, which is designed to benefit the neediest disabled groups.

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Category: Enforcement, Handicapped parking

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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  1. The end of free disabled parking? • MyParkingPermit Blog | July 24, 2013
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