Enabling the disabled to park

Tougher justice: Handicapped parking law needs enforcement, by courts and by those with permits.

January 12, 2002

PARKING illegally in a handicapped parking space is supposed to earn you a hefty fine.

It's $100 in Howard County and a sobering $250 at the University of Maryland, College Park.

The maximum fine in Baltimore County is $77 - but many people contest the tickets and don't pay nearly that much. A study by the county's finance office last year, and an analysis by a Sun reporter, found that 87 percent didn't pay anything and the rest averaged fines of less than $33.

The county Commission on Disabilities says judges should enforce the law more vigorously and be more skeptical of the excuses they're given for the offense.

We agree. This is a law that ought to be applied more strictly.

The survey also found that too many disabled people are not meeting their obligations to display these special permits at all times in their vehicles. Judges say they dismiss or discount violation charges if the accused presents a handicap parking permit in court. That may be judicial mercy - but it also devalues this important law.

Handicapped parking spaces are not a privilege but a necessity for those who need them. Legitimate permit/plate holders (about 180,000 in Maryland) must conscientiously comply with the law to protect this right.

Too many able-bodied people abuse the law for lazy convenience. In the seven months of the Baltimore County survey, some 1,800 tickets were adjudicated; two-thirds paid the fine by mail.

Without strict enforcement and compliance - by all - the disabled parking law is eroded and invites further abuse.

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