Parking offenders targeted in crackdown
By JAMES HANNAH,
XENIA, Ohio - When Maureen Birdsall took her disabled, 92-year-old
grandfather to a California hospital, she lost the only available
handicapped-parking spot to a woman in a red corvette.
Much to Birdsall's surprise, the woman didn't appear to be disabled.
"I sat there dumbfounded," she recalled.
She was not the only one outraged by seemingly healthy people
illegally using the handicapped parking spaces. After starting a web
site, http://www.handicappedfraud.org, she received postings from
people in 26 states with similar complaints.
The postings come complete with the license plates and handicapped-
permit numbers of vehicles suspected of illegally using handicapped
spaces. Birdsall sends them to motor vehicle departments.
Her whistle-blower Web site is part of a crackdown by residents,
states and towns on the able-bodied who park in spaces labeled for
the disabled because they are wider and closest to building entrances.
Xenia increased fines to at least $250 from $40 in the southwest Ohio
city. In Texas, Corpus Christi sends out citizen volunteers to ticket
Waltham, Mass., dedicates police details to do nothing but enforce
handicapped-parking laws. The city has spent about $6,000 in grant
money for overtime but gotten back about $32,000 in fines.
In most states, people with handicapped placards, plates or stickers
can park in designated handicapped spaces and often can park for free
at a meter.
But it's illegal to borrow someone's placard — a plastic tag that
hangs from the rearview mirror — and use it without the person being
in the vehicle. It's also illegal to use the placard of someone who
has died or to park in a handicapped space without a permit.
Governments are getting tougher because more placards are in
circulation and the public has become more aware of their abuse, said
Tim Gilmer, editor of New Mobility, a Horsham, Pa.-based magazine for
wheelchair users with active lifestyles.
Disabled people have become more vocal about their needs, said Terry
Moakley, a United Spinal Association spokesman.
"People just don't want to settle for no access or second-rate
access," Moakley said.
Massachusetts is urging its police to crack down after a yearlong
investigation culminating in August discovered that nearly one-third
of the placards found on cars parked in downtown Boston were being
used by people who were not disabled.
"It strikes a nerve with people," said Ann Dufresne, spokeswoman for
the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles. "They are taking spots
away from those people who really need it."
Laura Long, 50, of Chillicothe, Ohio, is not disabled, but
occasionally parks in the spaces. She said there usually are a lot of
open spots and doesn't feel that she is taking the space away from a
"I'll do it late at night if I need to pop in somewhere and don't
want to park far away," she said.
Birdsall's Web site features complaints about seemingly more
Someone from Burlingame, Calif. wrote: "I could not get close enough
to the Chevy Tahoe SUV to get the tag numbers, but should have asked
the driver unloading the bags of concrete and other construction
supplies from the rear."
The California motor vehicles department reviews postings that
involve suspected fraud — where a placard has been counterfeited or
the numbers altered, but asked the Web site operators to refer other
suspected violations to police.
Mike Marando, department spokesman, said just because people don't
appear to be disabled doesn't mean they aren't. Some people with
heart conditions or lung disease, for example, have legitimate
handicapped permits, he said.
In Corpus Christi, the city plans to double the size of its eight-
member citizens parking patrol, which was formed after the city
received numerous complaints about violations.
The volunteers drive marked police cruisers and wrote 40 percent of
the 876 handicapped no-parking tickets in the first seven months of
Volunteer Cheryl Daubs, whose 79-year-old mother is disabled,
typically puts in four to eight hours a week trolling parking lots,
especially trouble spots such as hospitals, movie theaters and
Daubs said her motive is to educate people. She chose for example to
void a ticket for a man and warn him instead, hoping it would be the
last time he parks in a handicapped spot.
For Phillip Shaw, 62, of Xenia, Ohio, walking long distances is
painful because he broke his back in 1980.
He has a sticker that gives him access to handicapped-parking spaces
but says there aren't that many in the city and he sometimes finds
them occupied by motorists who don't appear to be disabled.
"For someone who just uses it for convenience, I think they ought to
be fined," he said.
AP Photo: Phillip Shaw, disabled since breaking his back on the job, stands near a handicapped parking...