Downtown Drivers Abusing Handicap Placards for Free Parking

NBC 7 Investigates caught a state and city employee parking for free in a 6-month undercover investigation

Parking in downtown San Diego is tough, and NBC 7 Investigates found some drivers are using disabled placards issued to their relatives, which the DMV says is illegal.

NBC 7 Investigates spotted a Toyota truck parked for hours at a time on 3rd Avenue, near Broadway, in downtown San Diego. The driver works at a high-end hotel and doesn't feed the meter because he uses a handicap placard. The problem is, according to DMV records, the placard is not his. NBC 7 Investigates approached him as he was leaving work.

At first, he denied it is his truck. But since January, NBC 7 Investigates followed him as he got in and out of it, placard in place.

The man told NBC 7 Investigates he was “not sure” who owns the placard he was using on his truck. According to DMV records, the handicap placard is registered to a man in his 60s.

NBC 7 Investigates found many of the congested downtown streets have cars parked on them with handicap placards. On May 14 on 7th Avenue, between C Street and Broadway, half of the vehicles parked on the street had handicap placards displayed. That same day on 8th Avenue, between B and C Streets, eight out of 15 cars had placards.

In California, a driver with a disabled parking placard can park almost anywhere at anytime. But It can mean a fine of up to $1,000 or a misdemeanor to use it if it's not registered to you or someone present in the car.

During the NBC 7 investigation one man used a remote to unlock his car, but when he saw NBC 7 Investigates camera, he kept walking past his Lexus, the car he had remotely unlocked.

This man told NBC 7 Investigates to get our cameras off of him and that he does “work for the city and they don’t want me to talk.”

The man works two blocks from where he parks, in the City of San Diego's personnel office. He uses a handicap placard registered to his mother, according to DMV records.

“My mother is handicapped and I take care of my mother,” he told NBC 7 Investigates. But his mother was not with him while he was getting in and out of the car when our cameras followed him.

NBC 7 Investigates approached another woman who works for the state at the Hall of Justice. The woman parks a few blocks away from her office, using a placard belonging to a relative.

When asked if the car in question belonged to her, she said she took the trolley. But undercover video from NBC 7 Investigates shows the same woman getting in and out of this car.

A San Diego Police Parking enforcement supervisor told NBC 7 Investigates disabled placard abuse is a huge problem, especially downtown. He said catching people is difficult and the department, on average, gives out 28 tickets a day for the offense. The fine is $452.50.

At age 19, a car accident left Louis Frick a quadriplegic. Today, Frick is Executive Director of the nonprofit agency, Access To Independence.

He and many others like him said they need accessible parking spots.

“It’s unbelievably crowded downtown,” Frick said. “My question is ‘What is your problem? What is it that you feel like you just can’t be bothered to follow the rules like everybody else?' It’s frustrating to me.”

In 2013 to 2014, the California DMV issued 500 citations for disabled placard fraud statewide.
Right now, over 3 million California drivers have permanent or temporary disabled placards or disabled license plates.

If you suspect abuse or fraud, there are several ways you can report it.

You can contact any of the DMV Investigations offices. They suggest that people submit a written complaint. The complaint can be anonymous. Complaint forms can be found on the DMV public website under the search key words "Record of Complaint," or under form INV172A - Record of Complaint form. You may also obtain a complaint form from your local DMV field office. The phone number for the DMV Investigations office in San Diego is (858) 627-3951.

Although the DMV administers the Disabled Parking Placard program, any law enforcement agency can cite drivers for misuse of the placard. That includes the San Diego Police Department. If you see possible placard abuse in progress, you can call SDPD’s non-emergency line at (619) 531-2000.

Before you report suspected abuse of a disabled parking placard, keep in mind that disabilities aren’t always obvious.

That seemingly able-bodied man or woman who displays a placard may have an underlying medical condition that isn’t obvious. And it isn’t just the elderly that require placards. They can be issued to anyone with a disability at any age, including children.

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