Legislation introduced earlier this month is aimed at closing a loophole that now lets anyone with a handicapped placard park in spaces meant for wheelchair-accessible vans. Cars parking in these van-accessible spaces can prevent folks who are utilizing these vans from being able to enter or exit properly.
Wheelchair-accessible vans — used by many commercial businesses, non-profit groups, and governments to transport people with special mobility needs — require additional space to park because they use wheelchair ramps and powered lifts to facilitate access. In fact, the Americans With Disabilities Act mandates an additional 96” area next to the parking space (marked with diagonal stripes) for vehicles equipped with a wheelchair lift. This “access aisle” is normally on the passenger side of the vehicle.
Current North Carolina law says that any vehicle with a handicapped placard may park in any space designated for the handicapped and doesn’t make an exception for parking spots meant for wheelchair-accessible vans. House Bill 91 clarifies that only qualifying handicapped vans can park in spaces designated as van-accessible.
The legislation also directs the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which issues the placards, to study ways in which the familiar blue and white handicap tags are being misused. It’s not unusual for family members to use a handicapped person’s placard in order to secure a more convenient parking spot or — because many cities allow for free parking with a handicapped placard — avoid paying expensive parking fees. And unfortunately, people using placards that once belonged to a deceased person is also not uncommon.
Parking placards are issued only to people who return applications with a signature from a doctor.
When an able-bodied person uses a handicapped placard to get a better parking spot or to save money, it can place additional physical burdens on the handicapped, for whom these spaces are actually meant. “When people are out shopping or dining, they need these spots,” said Mark Perriello, president of the American Association of People with Disabilities. “When they can’t find them, it leaves people with disabilities out on the sidelines.”
According to a study commissioned by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the misuse of handicapped parking placards is on the rise. Several states, including South Carolina, now require the placard to contain a photo of the person to whom they are issued. Among other things, HB91 specifically calls for the DMV to study “the cost, feasibility, and advisability of requiring the inclusion of more personally identifying information on the windshield placard, including a picture of the handicapped person who was issued the placard.”
To learn more about laws governing handicapped parking, check out the DMV’s brochure “A User’s Guide to North Carolina Handicap Parking Placards and Plates.”