How Can We Stop Handicap Fraud?

A few years ago, a colleague of mine off-handedly mentioned that he “tried not to use” his spouse’s disability placard to park in handicapped spaces when she wasn’t in the car.? Frankly, I was appalled.? The implication was that he sometimes succumbed to the temptation to use the placard to park in a handicapped place.

Apparently, he isn’t alone. This Washington Post article suggests that the practice is common place.? In some cities, parking with a placard not only gives you access to handicap spots, but also allows you to “park at meters for free for double the maximum time allowed.”? Not surprisingly, an illegal market has developed to transfer these valuable items:

Families have been known to pass them down as if they were heirlooms. Thieves covet them: Last year, a Temple Hills man, Thais Miller, 19, was arrested for stealing placards from cars – ignoring global positioning systems and stereos – so he could sell them for $50 each.

The Post article points out that police are reluctant to challenge drivers on whether or not they are really disabled, and the police tend not to enforce misuse of placards at handicapped spots on private property.

So Freaknation, what can we do to curb these fraudsters?? We’ll send Freakonomics swag or a copy of Carrots and Sticks to the best answer.

One partial solution is to add expiration dates — so that at least the fraud will not continue unto the 10th generation.

The Post article also points to the wiki site? which even offers a handy iPhone app where citizens can reported suspected placard abuse.

My daughter suggested letting police cruisers have access to a private database where the placard number would be associated with a particular disabled person.? The police wouldn’t have to ask the driver if she is disabled.? They would only have to ask if she is the person named in the database.

If the database were made public, ordinary citizens could take on some of the job of enforcement.

But what’s your smart idea?

Of course, one solution is to do nothing.? One can always argue that the police have more important concerns.? But the Post article points to some of the real-life consequences in reduced mobility created by insincere placard use.

If you’re more interested in abusing the system, you might try to have your infant certified as temporarily disabled.? You see, most states certify?people who are non-ambulatory as disabled, and as a technical matter most babies qualify.

[HT: Peter Siegelman]

Just sayin'.

Handicap them.


Put the handicap person's picture on the card (like your drivers license) so that a cop can see who gets out of the car vs whose picture is on the hang tag.

Rick Howard

First and foremost, all the placards should have the license plate number and VIN printed on them to associate them with the specific vehicle.

The passenger or driver the placard belongs to should have an icon on their drivers license to show they are the owner of it.

If these two suggestions are taken, it might limit the amount of illegal use but nothing will ever 100% stop it.

As a bonus idea, I think that pregnant women should have dated pink placards made so they could have temporary access to handicap spaces.


There are many times when what appears to be fraud is actually legitimate use of the placard. That guy who parks in a handicapped spot and saunters into the mall? Are you going to notice him 15 minutes later when he returns with his disabled wife/child/parent?


When I visit a handicapped friend of mine, I have a choice with a few options:

a) I can park in the lot close to his apartment and risk getting towed for not having a proper tag;

b) I can park a mile away and walk through a tough neighborhood; or

c) I can park in the handicapped spot next to his and use his spare placard while I visit.

Let's just say I never choose a)


If you had categories of Handicap placards, which referenced the cause obliquely (without being overly specific, which might be hurtful), it would help officers identify the driver (or passenger) as disabled. Certainly tying the placard to a specific person (by including a name and photo on the reverse of the placard) would be a good idea, along with the expiration.

The state could also place cameras at high-traffic public handicap locations (or private, at the request of the owner), with signage. That signage would serve to remind people that they shouldn't misuse the placards, which will encourage the more honest people to behave appropriately (with a helping of guilt on top), while occasionally catching people offending at the most serious spots. If there is a license number on the front of the placard, that could easily be tied to the drivers' license photo of the person who the placard was issued to.

Ultimately, the issue with enforcement is more that you can't easily enforce the placard when the car is parked, as you don't know who is driving it - you can only enforce when you see someone getting out of a recently parked car. With any reasonably-priced enforcement system, you're going to have a very low level of risk associated with misusing the placard.


Eileen M Wyatt

Hmmmm... The WaPo article says there are expiration dates on local handicap placards but jurisdictions don't bother to enforce them.

Enforcing existing regulations would seem like the simple solution. I know somewhere, I've seen the placards have a visible expiration date, so that anybody looking at the car could tell if the placard was expired.

Robert Sandor

There are a few ideas that come to mind for me.

(1) Go the music industry route. Fine a few people a lot of money in the hopes that the stories will become big news and scare the many people who only casually do it into not committing fraud. This seems to have (sort of) worked for the music industry, though while people do still steal music, its not every person between the ages of 12-23 anymore.

(2) Shaming. A campaign of shaming people about how their actions hurt the people who actually use the service of the spots might work. It seems that if so many people are doing this (like my in-laws), they could likely be shamed by some sort of ads that show their actions directly hurting people.

(3) Buy back for the stickers. Since the expiration date is already mentioned (the most obvious and easiest fix), a buy-back of the stickers could lead to incentive people to sell them back to the government (though I think that just having expiration dates and heavy fines for using them after the date would be easier and more effective.

Just a few ideas of the top of my head.



So the problem is that able-bodied people are using resources for the handicapped?

Well, if we flip it around, we should just make the able-bodied people who abuse them so that they are no longer able-bodied.

Yes, this should be considered "cruel and unusual" and should never actually be carried out.


Here in the UK, a photo of the disabled person is on the back of the blue badge, so if there are any questions it can simply be flipped over to show who the permit belongs to. Is this not the case elsewhere?


Temporary disability placards in our state do have expiration dates. But temporary or permanent, the handicapped person who qualifies is registered with the BMV -- so I assume the police can already access that database to determine if the person using the placard is legally qualified to do so. On a day-to-day basis, though, would the benefits of monitoring this be worth the costs to law enforcement agencies?


Of course, given the current oversupply of handicap parking spaces, some cheating is optimal.

In addition to putting expiration dates on the placards, putting the license number on the placard would help considerably. The handicap person could get 1 or two cards for free, but then have to pay a large amount for any additional cards.

joel rubinson

How about if you personify the spots? photos on the signs with truly handicapped people thanking others for saving those spots for people who couldn't lead normal lives otherwise. If the township has some bucks, digital signage would be even better.

No fines; societal and moral persuasion is much more effective, as Ariely has noted.


My father had a handicapped permit. Our town does a particularly poor job of enforcing the law on handicapped parking and the spaces. The last summer he was alive he tried, on many hot days, to come to the pool to swim. However, due to non-existent enforcement of the rules on handicapped spaces, he couldn't use the pool since non-handicapped individuals were using the spaces. It seems as if the town and the municipal pool staff don't feel that it is part of their job to make sure that cars with handicapped stickers or licenses are parking in those spaces.

He needed to use one of those spaces since his sense of balance was terrible. He could no longer walk down a hill. Yet I've seen healthy people with no handicapped stickers park there. One, when confronted with his actions said that it didn't matter since the pool wasn't crowded. The same sort of thing goes on at other handicapped spaces. I've seen a healthy young man park in a handicapped space and get out to do his banking thereby preventing someone with a handicap from doing his banking.

We ought to be grateful that we can walk, that it is possible for us to get around without a cane, a walker, a wheelchair, or any sort of assistance. Those spaces are for people who, like my father, cannot manage to walk long distances or up or down hills, people who have cardiac problems, people who NEED them.


Florian Prischl

If handicapped placards are used illicitly, elliminate the placards. Problem solved.

OK, it's not as easy as I make it out. The placards could be replaced with a database of license plates of handicapped drivers. This eliminates some of the problems (theft, sale), but not all, and admittedly creates some new: Handicapped people would not be able to switch cars easily (e.g., taking another family car), and the kind of fraud described in the post (use by non-handicapped family members/friends, etc.) would not be impacted.


Numbered handicapped cards linked to people. Temporary cards should be a different color than permanent ones. The number on the card should be visible from outside so police can verify 1) Who the card is for and 2) If a temporary card then when does it expire.

Of course, incentives are very powerful. $200 for the first offense, $500 for the second and $1,000 for the third. This is something that everyone knows is wrong and there is no valid excuse for it (at least none that I can think of). Handicapped parking spots are necessary for many people that need them and abuse by a large minority should not be tolerated.


Expiration dates don't work; some states print one on the placard - like Massachusetts does. The placard has to be examined and police don't like giving a ticket to an empty car when the driver may be genuinely handicapped.

One idea: color code the placards so they are clearly expired from any distance. Put a big year and possibly month on each run so it's obvious when a person is using an orange placard from July 2011 in 2012. Don't use the same repeat cycle, so July's color is not the same each year. It may be simpler to use a bi-monthly or quarterly color change.


How about repealing the ADA? No one can abuse nonexistent privileges.


I am appalled by this given that how can a person use their mother, father, or sibling's disability for their convenience or comfort. It is first, a shame to the family. But also, I am surprised to see that people steel those disability placards and sell them for 50 dollars. In my opinion, this needs to be stopped because it is turning into a joke.

I agree with the solution that there could be an expiration date for these placards because that way when people steel them it is only useful for a certain time because it will eventually expire and so they will loose their value and people won't be paying 50 dollars for them and it will no longer be a profitable business like it is now. But that doesn't avoid family members to use the placard.

The issue concerning family members taking advantage of the placard could be solved, or at least helped, with supervisors in parking lots. They should observe people parking in those areas and if one of the passenger does have a disability because if not, then they should get a ticket for it.


El Scotto

Have pink placards for disabled females and blue placards for diabeled men. It wouldn't eliminate all the fraud, but it would be a start.