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]


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  1. Just sayin'. says:

    Handicap them.

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  2. Matt says:

    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.

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  3. Rick Howard says:

    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.

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  4. Kevin says:

    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?

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    • Jill says:

      Not really going to help when you get a ride from someone else in their car. The plate and vehicle will be different.

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  5. Steneub says:

    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)

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  6. Joe says:

    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.

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  7. Eileen M Wyatt says:

    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.

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  8. Robert Sandor says:

    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.

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