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Punishments for Handicap Placard Abuse in California

Posted in General FAQ'S on March 31, 2017

The state of California has a serious problem with disability fraud; specifically, one in eight California drivers have handicap placards for their cars, allowing free metered parking and access to easily accessible parking spots. Since it stands to reason that it is not possible for that many California drivers to have disabilities, widespread placard fraud seems to account for the extraordinary number of handicap placards in use in California.

It is very easy to obtain a handicap placard for your vehicle in California. The Department of Motor Vehicles website has a downloadable application. All you need is a doctor’s signature indicating that you have a medically legitimate reason to have a disabled placard. It’s difficult for law enforcement to positively identify fraudulent placard users, as not all disabilities are visually obvious.

Punishments for Handicap Placard Violations in California

Typically, DMV investigators issue misdemeanor citations for handicap placard abuse. This could include letting a friend or relative borrow a placard when he or she has no legitimate need for one, or using a counterfeit placard. Some DMV investigations have led to fraud charges for people who forged doctors’ signatures on handicap placard applications.

Specifically, the California Vehicle Code prohibits certain handicap placard violations and misuses, such as:

  • The legal owner of the placard allowing someone else to use the placard.
  • Attempting to display a placard that belongs to someone else, or displaying an expired placard.
  • Parking in a designated handicap parking spot using someone else’s placard.

Violating these Vehicle Code statutes for the first time typically incurs a civil fine comparable to a parking ticket. These fines range between $250 and $1,000. In some cases, violating the Vehicle Code could lead to a misdemeanor charge for illegal use of a handicap placard. Under California law, such a misdemeanor could lead to up to six months of jail time and fines.

Defenses Against Placard Misuse Charges

There are really only two viable defenses when facing a charge of abusing a handicap parking placard. If you have no disability yourself but were transporting a disabled individual, this is acceptable under California law. Additionally, if someone steals and uses your placard, or someone else borrowed your placard without your knowledge, these would be viable defenses as well. It’s vital for people who have a legitimate medical reason for using disabled parking placards to use them legally and prevent others from stealing or misusing them.

Addressing the Problem

Many California lawmakers working on curbing handicap placard abuse cite doctors’ need to keep patients on their registers as motivation to sign disabled parking applications without proper justification. Some doctors have also made money on the side by exchanging signatures for cash. The ongoing issue and pressure from lawmakers led to a DMV audit of their disabled parking application procedures.

California lawmakers hope that an audit of the DMV’s procedures will identify loopholes that could be closed to curb the handicap placard fraud in the state. According to Democrat Mike Gatto, Michigan recently rolled out a new law to combat the same issue, which led to a 98% decrease in the number of disabled parking placard applications in the state. Gatto and other supporters of the DMV audit hope that a similar law would help curb the problem in California.

This widespread abuse of the California DMV’s processes for easier parking hurts a lot of disabled people by taking up spaces they would otherwise use. Additionally, exploiting free metered parking deprives the state of revenue from parking meters. It’s vital for California to adopt new measures to prevent people from exploiting the system further.