Rules of the Road

Stealing a handicapped parking spot is not worth risk of hefty fines, jail time

Violations of special parking privileges are enforced on both public property and private property by law enforcement officers.
Violations of special parking privileges are enforced on both public property and private property by law enforcement officers.

Question: What is the law concerning handicapped parking spaces? Must a handicapped person always be present to justify their use? Can abuses be reported, and to whom? Is there a fine that can be imposed on those who misuse a permit?

Answer: Working backward through the questions; yes, yes (the police), yes, and you’ll find the laws in chapter 46.19 of the RCW. That’s the super-short summary; now let’s dig in.

To start with, I know we usually use the term “handicapped parking,” but the Revised Code of Washington titled the chapter “Special Parking Privileges for Persons With Disabilities,” and throughout the chapter refers to “special parking privileges,” so I’ll be using that term here. I point that out so we all know we’re talking about the same thing.

The chapter begins with a list of criteria that qualify a person for special parking privileges. The list is quite long so I’ll try to capture the rule’s essence: it takes a mobility, respiratory or vision-related disability to qualify for special parking privileges. That disability has to be verified by a doctor. In addition to individuals, organizations that regularly transport disabled people can apply for special parking privileges. This would include public transportation authorities, nursing homes, senior centers and assisted living facilities.

Once issued, a placard or license plate for special parking can be used only by the person to whom it was issued. That means you can’t borrow grandma’s car and park in a premium parking spot just because the car has a special license plate. If you really want that parking spot, bring grandma with you. I think you need to spend more time with her anyway.

Using another person’s placard or license plate is an infraction with a $450 penalty. The same goes for parking in a designated parking space without a special parking placard or license plate, or parking in such a way as to block access to disabled parking spaces.

There are also some crimes associated with special parking. It is a misdemeanor to “willfully obtain” a special placard or license plate “in a manner other than established under this chapter.” Notice that a person doesn’t even have to use the wrongfully obtained permit to be guilty of this crime. If you possess a special parking permit and you know it doesn’t belong to you, it is a violation of the law.

How would a person “willfully obtain” a parking placard? Let me count the ways: buying a fake permit (available on the internet as “novelty realistic state tags,” making your own, borrowing one or stealing one (which would add to the crimes committed). It is also a misdemeanor to sell a special parking placard or license plate. The maximum penalty for a misdemeanor is a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail.

Lying to a doctor to get a special parking permit is a gross misdemeanor (more serious than a misdemeanor). The maximum penalty for a gross misdemeanor is a $5,000 fine and 364 days in jail. Yep, they couldn’t just make it a year.

Violations of special parking privileges are enforced on public property and private property by law enforcement officers. This is one of only three traffic infractions I’m aware of that are enforceable on private property. Contact your local law enforcement agency to report a violation of the special parking law.

I’ve covered the basics of the law, but I’d like to add one more comment. For anyone reading this who thinks violating the special parking law is a convenience worth the risk, quit being selfish and be thankful you can walk. I’m willing to bet that any person legally allowed to park in a disabled parking space would gladly trade that convenience for better mobility. That’s my mini-sermon. As always, be kind and drive wise.

The fine for parking in a handicapped parking space was corrected Nov. 16, 2016.

Road Rules is a regular column on road laws, safe driving habits and general police practices. Doug Dahl is the Target Zero Manager for the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force. Target Zero is Washington’s vision to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries to zero by 2030. For more traffic safety information visit Ask a question.