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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE

Shame on Parking Scofflaws

September 22, 2002

It's not generating the media frenzy that UCLA football players did three years by faking injuries in order to win handicapped parking placards, but an investigation in Irvine is uncovering an equally frustrating abuse of handicapped parking spaces by able-bodied motorists.

The good news is that many of the drivers who are being issued misdemeanor citations for illegally using handicapped parking spots are responsible enough to acknowledge their guilt. The bad news is that many scofflaws immediately try to spin their way out of trouble. The ugly news is that, based on evidence gathered in recent weeks by Irvine investigators, as many as one out of three handicap parking placards is being misused.

With 1.6 million handicapped parking placards outstanding in California--and no central enforcement agency to police their use--Irvine's investigation sadly suggests that other cities had best start monitoring who's pulling into handicapped spaces. Irvine has handed out nearly 100 misdemeanor citations in just a few weeks--a sad scene in a city that prides itself on making life easier for the handicapped.

It shouldn't be surprising that the problem of able-bodied motorists abusing the familiar blue-and-white placards to score a convenient parking spot is so widespread. A parking enforcement team in Los Angeles, one of the few major cities that regularly polices the use of handicapped placards, yanked more than 2,200 of them during a three-year period ending in 1999--the same year 11 players on UCLA's football team generated headlines nationwide for faking injuries to secure parking placards. Los Angeles' handicapped parking task force at the time described its efforts to counter widespread abuse as akin to "putting a thumb in the leaking dike."

Most frustrating are the motorists who offer no excuse other than their own convenience for taking advantage of a program that serves such a basic, human purpose. It's not excusable behavior, but one can at least understand the thought processes of caregivers who begin to view the parking placards as a minor perk for the considerable hours spent caring for handicapped relatives.

But excuses offered by motorists who abuse the system are just that--excuses. A man rushing to a recent David Bowie concert at the Verizon Amphitheater used a card held by a son with Down syndrome to score an easy parking spot. A teenager used her dead grandmother's card to save herself a few steps at a Weezer concert--and when police caught up with her, insisted that she was the 80-year-old woman named on the expired card. A woman who was confronted by Irvine officers became verbally abusive, shouted, "I don't have time for this" and then threatened officers by backing her car up against them.

Irvine is slapping violators with a $250 parking ticket and up to $750 in fines. But Irvine should up the ante by temporarily revoking the driver's licenses of those selfish enough to abuse handicapped parking permits. Offenders could use the time waiting for buses or cabs to ponder the value of a few precious minutes gained by illegally taking a handicapped parking spot.

What these scofflaws are lacking is the sense to recognize that their "me first" attitude does more than inconvenience another motorist.

They're missing the point that handicapped spaces aren't a luxury for those who truly need them.

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