Scams Cheat Disabled out of Handicap Parking

Inspector General, RMV Uncover Abuses of Disability Placards

(Boston, MA)-In a year-long surveillance operation, investigators with the Inspector General's Office (IGO) and Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) documented widespread abuse of the disability placard and handicap parking program. The IGO report, which Inspector General Gregory Sullivan joined Registrar Anne L. Collins in releasing today, outlined numerous instances where able-bodied motorists fraudulently used the disability placards of deceased or elderly relatives to park for free in prime downtown Boston locations.

"When we began looking into complaints we received about the handicap parking program we had no idea we'd find so many people taking advantage of the disabled," said IG Sullivan. "As soon as it became apparent how pervasive the abuse was, we worked with RMV to initiate reforms and curtail the schemes we uncovered."

Registrar Collins said, "Disability placards and handicap plates enrich the lives of individuals with disabilities, giving them the parking access they need to work, shop and enjoy recreational activities. It's appalling that people who have the mobility and means to use regular parking would exploit the handicap parking program."

Investigators set up surveillance in Boston's financial district, on Newbury Street and around North Station, tracking 965 disability placards that were spotted 3,819 times. The operation found:

  • Forty-nine placards were registered to deceased individuals.
  • Four placards were expired and the expiration date and/or placard number on another 155 placards was obstructed, leading investigators to surmise that more people are using expired placards.
  • 300 placards appeared to be used by someone other than the applicant and were sighted 1,200 times.
  • State Police confiscated the placards of 17 individuals who were cited for fraudulent use of the placards which is subject to a $500 fine and mandatory 30-day loss of driver's license.

In addition, the RMV and IG reviewed numerous altered or counterfeit placards confiscated by the Boston Transportation Department over the last six months.

Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen called the joint investigation a prime example of what can be achieved when state and local government offices work together.

"Unfortunately, the demand for handicap parking is increasing as our population grows older, injured veterans return from the war, and more people are diagnosed with debilitating illnesses like diabetes," said Secretary Cohen. "It's imperative we do whatever we can to ensure placards go only to the people who need them and that the parking privilege is not abused."

The Patrick administration will soon file legislation to amend the current law that addresses altered or counterfeit learner's permits and licenses to include disability placards.

The RMV has already instituted other changes to tighten the application and renewal process, and stepped-up education and enforcement of the handicap parking program. Among the initiatives:

  • Placard applications have been revised and consequences of abuse by applicants and medical doctors made clear.
  • Monthly cross-checks with the Social Security Administration are now made to prevent the renewal of placards of deceased people.
  • License information of medical professionals is routinely checked to prevent fraudulent signatures on applications for placards.
  • Disability placards have been reformatted to make it difficult to obscure expiration dates. Additional security features have been added, such as the Registrar's signature.
  • A web-based reporting tool allows individuals to report suspected abuse of plates and parking spots.

Currently, anyone cited for abusing a disability placard is subject to a $500 fine, revocation of the placard and a 30-day suspension of their driver's license for a first offense. Repeat offenders face a $1,000 fine and up to a year's license suspension.

There are currently 283,266 active placards in use across the Commonwealth.

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