Parking for handicapped brings a mixed reaction

TRAFFIC TALK

March 19, 2002|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

I RANKLED more than one reader in last week's column, which included a complaint by Don Oliver of Columbia about drivers who may be abusing handicapped permits and designated parking spots. He suggested challenging drivers of cars with handicapped licenses or permits who do not seem to have obvious disabilities. I said that challenging such drivers to show their papers is behavior closer to that of a police state than that of a country like the one we live in.

Oliver responded: "Let's be clear here. The intent of the handicapped parking laws is to ensure close-in parking for people who have a legitimate disability, whether it is apparent or not. There was a reason that the legislature included a requirement to carry the medical condition documentation. What do you suppose that reason to be - to fill up the glove compartment?"

Oliver noted that the intent was so that a police officer could verify the legitimacy of the use of the parking permit. "If no one ever asks the question, abuses will continue and in fact will increase," he said. "The use of a family member's permit or an illegally obtained permit has become epidemic. Validating the user of a permit is the real person for whom it was issued is a matter of law."

In Washington, according to Oliver, "there is an underground black market selling handicapped hangers" because drivers with handicapped permits are allowed to park at meters free of charge for as long as they wish, making tight parking in that city even tighter. He said the culprits are "commuters who are getting free parking courtesy of the D.C. government."

If he is correct, abuse of the handicapped permits is endemic to the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area. The second response I received to last week's column underscores that suspicion.

Mike Stinson of Ellicott City said he would like to see a reduction in underused handicapped parking spaces. "I love to see nonhandicapped people parking in the handicapped-designated spaces since they otherwise go largely unused, even with relatives of drivers with disabilities illegally using the permits," he said. He justified this scofflaw behavior because this way "the spaces don't go completely unused."

"I have never seen all the spaces occupied even with people illegally using most of them," Stinson said. "These prime parking spaces would go unused except for `slobs' like me who may be lazy, but who are not irrational about a nonproblem."

Sorry, I'd rather see some spaces stay empty than have scofflaws decide for themselves what the appropriate use is for these spaces. Does walking a few extra feet really matter that much?

I agree with Oliver that the only way to stop these abuses is to enforce the law, which means checking the documentation of some users once in awhile. "Relying on the integrity of others hasn't worked," Oliver said. "It's a shame it comes to this, but that is the way things are."

However necessary, I still worry that asking drivers without obvious disabilities for their documentation risks inadvertently discriminating against them. We can only hope that such challenges would be made judiciously.

Eric Bentley, who lives on Kent Island but evidently buys his Sun in Howard County, suggests a fair and reasonable way around these concerns: "My solution," he says, is to "put a photograph of the handicapped person on the permit."

Parking in fire lanes

Mike Stinson also weighed in on another issue discussed in last week's column that he considers to be a "nonproblem."

"As to fire lanes, a similar nonproblem exists," he says, "I have never seen or heard or read of a single incident where any emergency vehicle was handicapped by an illegally parked vehicle. To try to tie this to the 9/11 tragedy is not only illogical but also uncouth."

I haven't heard of such a case either, but I sure would hate to have it happen. That's why the fire lanes were created. Don't risk my safety and that of others by deciding that "because you've never heard of it happening, it couldn't in the future."

As to tying the issue to 9-11, hasn't that tragedy focused our attention on and increased our understanding of the work and mission of this country's rescue personnel? Why not try to make their lives a little easier by following a law that is meant to help them protect us?

What's your driving dilemma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at elison @us.net. Technophobes can mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 5570 Sterrett Place, Suite 300, Columbia 21044, or fax 410-715-2816.

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