Limits on disabled-parking permits due to begin

Rules are one of the new Md. laws that come with the new year


Disabled drivers might soon find more handicapped spots available thanks to a state crackdown on permit abuse beginning tomorrow.

The changes to the disabled parking rules -- one of a number of new laws that begin with the new year -- come after complaints of widespread exploitation of handicapped tags.

"There's so much misuse," said Sen. Nancy Jacobs, the Harford County Republican who co-sponsored the legislation. "Not only are the wrong people using them, but they're taking spaces from the people who need them."

The new law will grant parking privileges only to individuals with disabilities -- not to the people who drive them. The Motor Vehicle Administration estimates that of the 89,000 cars with handicapped plates, 30,000 are used by people who aren't disabled.

"It totally changes the eligibility requirements," Jacobs said.

Nursing homes and other facilities that transport the disabled will still be able to get special plates, according to state officials.

The new law also changes how many special plates and rearview mirror placards a disabled person can have.

Now people can have either two sets of plates and a placard, or two placards and a set of plates. The new law limits people to one set of plates and one placard, or two placards but no plates.

Anyone with extra placards or plates will have to return them to the MVA. Violators face fines or the revocation of their plates and placards.

The new rules, passed this year by the General Assembly, are based on the recommendations of a governor's task force on parking issues for the disabled. Serving on the task force were advocates for the disabled and representatives from small business and government.

In addition to limiting who gets tags and placards, the new law requires all parking lots in the state to become compliant with the Maryland Accessibility Code by Oct. 1, 2010, or when the lot is restriped or repaved -- whichever comes first.

By Oct. 1, 2010, all signs designating handicapped spots will have to state the maximum fine for using the spot illegally.

"This gives them time to be able to comply," Jacobs said, "but they're going to have to be sure that they do."

Terri Parrish, chairwoman of Maryland's Alliance of Disabilities Commissions and Committees, has lobbied officials for years for improvements to the state's disabled parking laws.

She has used a wheelchair since 1977 and said finding parking has only gotten harder.

"Nowadays, it's sort of rare that I get handicapped parking because it's just not available," she said. "It's unconscionable, but people think if they take their great-aunt shopping and have a placard, that that entitles them to use it whenever they want to."

Parrish applauded the new law.

"This is progress," she said, adding that jurisdictions must pay attention to enforcement to ensure the rules have an impact. "It needs to be continually addressed."

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