Virginia bill would let doctors issue disabled parking placards

Local,Virginia,Transportation,Liz Essley

A Virginia lawmaker wants to save people with broken legs a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Sen. Tom Garrett, R-Lynchburg, introduced legislation that would allow physicians to issue short-term disabled parking placards rather than force patients to get them at the DMV.

The bill would let doctors apply to the DMV for an unspecified number of the windshield placards that they could give to patients who have temporary trouble walking. The cards would be good for 90 days.

Garrett drafted the bill after a constituent told him about going to the DMV and standing in line for a placard when he was still recovering from hip surgery.

"I just think the system could be more user-friendly. I've heard more than one story from people detailing how they had just broken their leg, and the process of getting the handicapped placard was -- no pun intended -- very painful," Garrett said. "We're hoping to work it out so that if you have a short-term disability, you don't have to literally hobble into the DMV."

But some worry the new rule would increase fraud. The handicap placards are valuable commodities in many jurisdictions like D.C., where drivers with a placard can park for free.

"The criminal mind can find easy ways to exploit the system. That's what our concern would be," said AAA Mid-Atlantic's John Townsend. "There have to be safeguards in place to make sure you don't have fraud in the program at the doctor's level."

Arlington County Treasurer Frank O'Leary, who implemented Arlington's disabled parking program in 1998 after fraud became rampant, said he thought the bill would encourage people to obtain the placards and then keep them long after the 90-day expiration date.

"I think it's a very bad idea," O'Leary said. "Whenever you've got a freebee of some sort, people are going to lie, cheat and steal to get it. ... I think if somebody has such a short-term injury situation, they don't need a placard. It's not a permanent disability. It's a temporary inconvenience."

Disabled placard fraud has been rampant in the District, where officials once counted cars with the placards occupying 31 of 34 spaces on just one L'Enfant Plaza block. D.C. considered making disabled drivers pay for parking to curb the fraud but dropped the idea after advocates for the disabled complained about paying.

Garrett said he is working with the DMV to figure out an administrative solution to make placards easier to obtain for those who injured legs or hips. He said he may withdraw the bill if the DMV can fix the problem on its own.

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