×

Editorial: Welcome law targets abuse of handicapped parking


Wednesday, December 06, 2017

There are plenty of ways to “game the system” as the saying goes, but abusing handicapped parking spots with bogus credentials is one of the more shameful.

Handicapped placards, both temporary or permanent, are intended to allow a shorter traveling distance for people with disabilities. They exist to help our most vulnerable residents get where they need to go, as conveniently and safely as possible with dedicated parking.

But the handicapped parking placard system has been abused and misused in the commonwealth for many years, including in Hampshire County. The Gazette reported last week, 33 fraudulent handicapped placards have been seized in Northampton alone in 2017, including from one person who allegedly photocopied a placard and colored it in with crayons to make it look real. In almost all cases, the placards were being used to avoid paying for parking.

And the problem is not confined to cities where parking is at a premium and metered. In May, Southampton Police seized three handicapped placards during its stepped-up enforcement of abuse. In two of the cases, people were using placards that belonged to deceased family members, a frequently reported abuse.

“It’s an equity issue,” Northampton Mayor David J. Narkewicz told Gazette reporter Bera Dunau, adding that those who misuse the placards hurt disabled people who really need the designated spaces.

Gov. Charlie Baker last week signed into law stiffer penalties for fraudulent use of handicapped parking credentials after they were unanimously approved by the Legislature.

The law increases the license suspension for people wrongfully displaying a handicapped placard or plate from 30 to 60 days for a first offense and from 90 to 120 days for a second offense. It increases fines for using placards issued to people who have died to $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.

The new law calls for a $50 fine for anyone who obstructs the number or expiration date of a handicapped placard and imposes criminal penalties for forging, stealing or counterfeiting them. It also allows the Registry of Motor Vehicles to refuse to process applications for handicapped placards and plates if applicants do not provide proper documentation or information.

Handicapped placards can only be used by the person to whom they are issued after meeting certain medical conditions. Upon passage of the law, Registry of Motor Vehicles chief Erin Deveney stated that “placard holders should be guarding their placard as closely as they would their identification card, bank account information or Social Security number.”

The new law also is designed to address lost parking revenues because the placards allow people who legitimately have disabilities to park at metered spaces for free.

An investigation by the state inspector general’s office, which recommended many of the new changes in the law, found widespread abuse of disability parking placards in all four of the Boston neighborhood it surveilled. It also found gaps in the application process and state laws that make it easier for people to obtain and use placards fraudulently. The probe identified 325 vehicles displaying placards that belonged to someone else and estimated that the placard abuse could be costing the city of Boston millions of dollars each year, according to the February 2016 report.

There were 418,072 placards in the state in 2015.

State Sen. Eileen Donoghue, D-Lowell, who sponsored the legislation, noted that the law will benefit both disabled people who deserve to use the designated spaces and local governments deprived of much-needed revenue. Just as importantly, we hope it proves an effective deterrent for the arrogant and lazy people who fraudulently have been using the placards.

The Registry of Motor Vehicles has established a disability placard abuse task force and created an online site for the public to report suspected fraud at www.mass.gov/how-to/report-disability-parking-abuse. We encourage people to use it.