You know those little blue handicapped parking passes that serve as all-access tickets to the best parking spots at the mall? Well, in California, it seems almost everyone has one. Really. And it's costing "millions of dollars."
Just get a load of these stats from the L.A. Times:
With 1 in 10 California drivers now legally registered to carry the passes, transportation experts say abuse has become commonplace. At any given moment, on any given street, more than a third of the vehicles displaying the tags — and parking without paying — are doing so illegally, say officials with the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
The Times explains how people usually "abuse" the privilege:
Under California law, as in most states, cars displaying a disabled placard may park for free for an unlimited time at metered spaces. The placard holder does not have to own or drive the vehicle, but if a relative or friend is using the placard to secure free, unlimited parking, then the placard holder must accompany that person or be within "reasonable proximity."
But with metered spaces now costing as much as $4 an hour, the temptation to misuse a friend's or relative's placard — even a dead one's — can be great.
So what's the cost to the public? The Times says that in California -- which is in dire straits financially -- "abuse of disabled placards translates into millions of dollars in lost parking revenues and increased traffic congestion."
In fact, the problem has become so costly and rampant the state has even started setting up "sting" operations to catch abusers. That's right, it's "Miami Vice," handicapped parking edition.
For example, the Times tells the story of one lady who got busted after walking to her car from her gym. She was using her mother's tag:
Another driver cited by DMV investigators in Beverly Hills had just emerged from a Camden Drive fitness center to her expired meter. She told officers that she had earlier dropped her mother at a doctor's office, and her mother confirmed that via cellphone. Nonetheless, an investigator confiscated the placard, saying the woman had "personally garnered a benefit" by using it to park for free while she exercised.
Part of the reason for the problem is that investigators usually reach a dead end when they try look into why someone has a handicapped pass. Privacy laws prevent the investigators from asking that question. Also, disabled advocacy groups have fought hard not to have the laws surrounding the issuing of the permits changed because, essentially, they don't want to "screw over" (as one told the paper) people who actually need the passes.
So for now, there's not much the state can do to preempt the misuse. "It does sort of invite this corruption and is a disservice to other motorists," Michael Manville, a UCLA researcher who has studied the issue, told the Times.
Vito Scattaglia, deputy chief of the division of investigations at the DMV, however, told the Times the reactionary responses -- the sting operations -- will continue. He hopes they make a difference: "We need a deterrent."
Read the full report from the L.A. Times.