New law to crack down on disabled placard abuse

December 30, 2009 8:10:58 PM PST
Another new law that comes with the New Year raises the minimum fine for misusing a disabled parking placard.

There are more disabled parking placards in San Francisco than there are parking meters -- some 52,000 and not all of them are being legitimately used.

"Last year alone, the Department of Parking and Traffic confiscated over 1,000 illegal placards," says San Francisco Assemblywoman Fiona Ma.

That fraudulent use in the city prompted Ma to author legislation that will become state law January 1, 2010.

"Currently its only a $100 for illegal use and now cities and counties can increase that fine up to $1,000, so think that this going to be a deterrent," says Ma.

Alice Brown, who is disabled, is not so sure.

"You'll always find somebody who'll abuse the law. You know that," says Brown.

Placard holders are allowed to park not just in handicap spaces, but also for free at meters. San Francisco plans to move quickly to up the ante for cheaters.

"Disabled placard abuse not only takes away crucial revenues from city coffers, but it also makes it harder for people with legitimate placards to find parking," says Muni spokesman Judson True.

Earlier this year, Oakland operated a sting to catch scammers.

There are 2.5 million placards in California. While the state doesn't collect data on misuse, those we talked to believe cheating is rampant.

Disability rights organizations welcome the new law, but are worried about confrontations. Susan Mizner is the head of the mayor's office on disability in San Francisco. She says you cannot always tell by looking why someone may deserve a placard.

"Most of the people who use placards use them because of a lung problem, a heart problem, a neurological problem. So, I urge the general public not to try to become vigilantes," says Mizner.

Assemblywoman Ma says she will monitor the new law for two years and then decide if any other measures are needed to crack down on abuse.


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