Location:
HANDICAPPED; PARKING;
Scope:
Connecticut laws/regulations; Background;

OLR Research Report


July 16, 2010

 

2010-R-0293

HANDICAPPED PARKING LAWS IN CONNECTICUT

By: Paul Frisman, Principal Analyst

You asked about state laws and recent legislation on handicapped parking in Connecticut.

SUMMARY

The law establishes a formula under which a certain number of parking spaces must be set aside for people who are blind or who have a disability that impairs their ability to walk. People who park in these spaces must display a removable windshield placard (commonly called a permit) or a special license plate bearing the international symbol of access. The law specifies the design and content of these placards and plates.

By law, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) commissioner must issue these special plates and removable windshield placards to:

1. a person who is blind,

2. a person with disabilities that limit or impair the ability to walk,

3. a parent or guardian of any blind person or person with disabilities who is (a) under 18 at the time of application or (b) unable to request or complete an application, and

4. certain organizations that transport blind people or people with disabilities.

The commissioner may also issue temporary handicapped parking placards to people whose ability to walk is seriously but temporarily impaired. Temporary placards are the same as permanent placards, except that the international symbol of access appears on a red, rather than blue, background.

According to DMV, as of July 8, 2010 there were 317,935 active permanent handicapped placards, 10,413 active temporary placards, and 7,975 special license plates.

People applying to the commissioner for these plates or placards must include certification of (1) disability from designated medical professionals or a member of the DMV handicapped driver training unit or (2) legal blindness from designated medical professionals or the Board of Education and Services for the Blind.

The commissioner may not issue more than one placard per applicant, and must keep a record of each placard he issues. He may suspend or revoke any plate or placard for misuse. A recent change in the law requires that, starting January 1, 2010, the commissioner can issue a placard only to a person who has a valid driver's license or non-driver's identification card. However, he may adopt regulations to issue placards to people who, because of hardship, do not hold, or cannot obtain, a license or ID card.

Only those motor vehicles displaying a plate or placard may park in handicapped parking spaces, except that an ambulance transporting a patient may park in a handicapped space for up to 15 minutes while assisting the patient. A person who parks illegally in a handicapped space faces a fine of $150 for a first violation and $250 for second and subsequent violations. A motor vehicle illegally parked in a handicapped space for the third or subsequent time may be towed and impounded until any fines are paid.

As the result of a change in the law made in 2009, DMV is phasing out lifetime handicapped placards. It will gradually replace them with placards that will expire at the same time as the placard holder's driver's license or non-driver's ID card. (The department continues to refer to these placards as permanent placards, even though they will eventually expire, to distinguish them from temporary placards.)

Since 2007, the legislature has enacted laws increasing fines for violating handicapped parking laws (PA 07-52), and establishing several new requirements for the issuance and use of placards and special plates (PA 09-187). We summarize these acts as well as several unsuccessful bills in this report. In addition, 38 of PA 09-187 required DMV to study alternative enforcement of the handicapped parking laws, including enforcement sweeps, media campaigns, and citizen volunteer enforcement programs. We summarize the study's findings below. Additional information is available on DMV's website at: http://www.ct.gov/dmv/taxonomy/taxonomy.asp?DLN=30289&dmvNav=|30289|.

CONNECTICUT LAW (CGS 14-253A)

Required Handicapped Parking Spaces

The law requires the State Traffic Commission and local traffic authorities, within their respective jurisdictions, to establish parking spaces in parking lots for 20 or more cars in which only motor vehicles displaying a special license plate or windshield placard may park.

Handicapped parking spaces also must be established in private parking areas for 200 or more cars according to the following schedule:

Total Number Of Parking Lot Spaces

Number of Special Parking Spaces Required

0 - 200

Exempt

201 - 1000

1.0%

1001 - 2000

10 plus 0.8% of spaces over 1000

2001 - 3000

18 plus 0.6% of spaces over 2000

3001 - 4000

24 plus 0.4% of spaces over 3000

4001 or more

28 plus 0.2% of spaces over 4000

All such spaces must be designated as reserved exclusively by handicapped people and identified with signs. These provisions do not apply if the State Building Code or a municipal parking ordinance sets stricter requirements on the size of the parking lots that require handicapped parking spaces or the number of handicapped spaces required. The State Building Code does impose stricter standards on the number of spaces. Please see OLR Report 2008-R-0547 (attached) for more information.

Handicapped parking spaces for passenger motor vehicles must be as near as possible to a building entrance or walkway and must be 15 feet wide, including five feet of cross hatch. Handicapped spaces for passenger vans carrying people with handicaps must be as near as possible to a building entrance or walkway and must be 16 feet wide, including eight feet of cross hatch. Such spaces must be designated by signs whose design and content is specified by law. When a sign is replaced, repaired, or erected it must indicate the minimum fine for a violation.

Eligibility for License Plates and Windshield Placards

The following people and organizations are eligible for special license plates and removable windshield placards:

1. a person who is blind, as defined by law (CGS 1-1f);

2. a person with disabilities that limit or impair the ability to walk, as defined in federal law (see below);

3. a parent or guardian of a blind person or person with disabilities who is (a) under 18 at the time of application, or (b) unable to request or complete an application; or

4. an organization that meets criteria established by the commissioner and certifies to his satisfaction that the vehicle for which a plate or placard is requested is primarily used to transport blind persons or persons with disabilities that limit or impair their ability to walk.

State law uses the federal criteria for defining limitation in ability to walk (23 CFR 1235. 2). Under these criteria, someone is limited in his or her ability to walk if a physician determines that he or she:

1. cannot walk 200 feet without resting;

2. cannot walk without (a) the use of a cane, brace, crutch, prosthetic device, wheelchair, or other assistive device, or (b) help from another person;

3. is restricted by lung disease so that his or her forced respiratory volume or arterial oxygen tension is below certain limits;

4. uses portable oxygen;

5. has a heart condition that creates functional limitations falling within the American Heart Association's Class III or IV criteria; or

6. is “severely limited” in walking ability due to an arthritic, neurological, or orthopedic condition.

Application Requirements

The law requires that applications for a placard or special license plate be on a form the commissioner prescribes and include certification of (1) disability from a licensed physician, physician assistant, or advanced practice registered nurse, or (2) blindness from an ophthalmologist, optometrist, or the Board of Education and Services for the Blind. In the case of people with disabilities that limit or impair the ability to walk, the application must also include certification that the applicant meets the above federal definition from a licensed physician, physician assistant, an advanced practice registered nurse, or a member of the handicapped driver training unit.

The commissioner may require additional certification at any time. If a person who has been asked to submit additional certification fails to do so within 30 days, or if the commissioner determines that the additional certification is unfavorable to the applicant, he may refuse to issue or, if already issued, suspend or revoke the special license plate or windshield placard. The commissioner may accept the discharge papers of a disabled veteran in place of certification. A person whose application has been denied must be given the opportunity for a hearing.

PA 10-110, 24, which took effect June 5, 2010, requires people who issue certifications to sign the application or renewal application under the penalty of second-degree false statement (CGS 53a-157b). A person is guilty of this crime if he or she intentionally makes a false written statement under oath or on a form bearing notice to the effect that a false statement is punishable, which he or she does not believe to be true and is intended to mislead a public servant in his official function. Second-degree false statement is a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison, a fine of up to $ 2,000, or both.

Issuance and Use of Permanent Disability Parking Placards

On January 1, 2010 DMV stopped issuing handicapped parking placards that last for a person's lifetime (although the department still refers to them as permanent to distinguish them from temporary

permits). Placards are now valid for two, four, or six years, and expire at the same time as the holder's license or ID card. They must be renewed at the end of the month in which the license or ID card expires.

A placard is issued in the name of the disabled person, and is for his or her exclusive use. There is no fee for the placard and it may be used in any vehicle in which the disabled person is riding.

Issuance and Use of Temporary Disability Parking Placards

DMV issues temporary disability parking placards to people whose ability to walk is seriously but temporarily impaired. According to DMV's website, the department issues temporary placards to people whose hospital discharge plan requires the use of crutches, wheelchairs, or any other device intended as an aid or substitution for walking http://www.ct.gov/dmv/cwp/view.asp?a=842&Q=245466&dmvPNavCtr=|#30305.

The temporary placard is for the exclusive use of the disabled person, and may be used in any vehicle in which the disabled person is riding. It is valid for up to six months, requires the same proof of disability as a permanent placard, and allows the same access to reserved parking spaces. There is a $5 fee for a temporary placard.

If an applicant has a temporary parking placard that is due to expire and he still has a qualifying disability, he must obtain a new medical certification before applying for another temporary placard.

Issuance and Use of Special License Plates

DMV must issue special license plates, on approval of the application, to anyone eligible for such plates who has a motor vehicle registered in his or her name as a passenger vehicle, passenger and commercial vehicle, or motorcycle.

DMV may issue these special license plates for up to two motor vehicles per eligible individual. A person eligible to obtain a special license plate who transfers the expired registration of his or her motor vehicle and replaces his or her license plate with a special license plate does not have to pay a fee for the transfer or replacement. But a special license plate and placard must be returned to the commissioner when the holder moves out of state or dies. There is a $500 fine for anyone whose uses a placard or special license plate after the death of the person to whom it was issued.

Legally Permissible and Impermissible Parking

Vehicles displaying a special license plate or a placard are allowed to park in an area where parking is legally permissible, for an unlimited period of time without penalty, regardless of the time indicated by a (1) parking meter, or (2) sign, provided the operator of, or a passenger in, the vehicle is a blind person or a person with a disability.

A placard cannot be displayed on a motor vehicle unless it is being operated by, or carrying as a passenger, the individual to whom DMV issued it. The law specifies that it does not allow a state resident who is blind or has a disability to park in a public or private area reserved for the exclusive use of handicapped people if he or she does not display the special plate or placard on or in his vehicle.

The placard must be hung from the front windshield rearview mirror when using a parking space reserved for people with disabilities. If there is no rearview mirror, the placard must be placed in clear view on the dashboard.

Vehicles bearing a special license plate may not use a handicapped parking space when the vehicle is not being driven by, or carrying as a passenger, the person to whom DMV issued the special plate.

Suspension or Revocation of a Plate or Placard

The commissioner may suspend or revoke any plate or placard issued when, after affording the person to whom such plate or placard was issued an opportunity for a hearing, the commissioner or his representative determines that the person has used or permitted the use of the plate or placard in a manner that violates the law.

Penalties for Violators

A first violation of the handicapped parking law is punishable by a $150 fine; second and subsequent violations are punishable by a $250 fine.

DMV Check of Public Health Records

The law requires the DMV commissioner to periodically check DPH's registry of deaths and cancel any placard issued to an individual who has died. DMV says it checks the registry about every six weeks.

Regulations

The commissioner must adopt regulations to implement the law and to establish a uniform system for the issuance, renewal, and regulation of special license plates, removable windshield placards, and temporary removable windshield placards.

RECENT CHANGES TO THE HANDICAPPED PARKING LAWS

Increase in Fines

PA 07-52 increased the fine for violating laws relating to the provision and use of parking spaces designated for handicapped people. Previously, violations were infractions with a minimum fine of $85. The act eliminated the designation as an infraction and increased the fine to $150 for a first violation and $250 for a subsequent violation. However, it designates these fines as payable by mail to the Centralized Infractions Bureau, so a court appearance is not required if the violator chooses to mail in the fine.

The violations of the handicapped parking law subject to the act's higher fine include:

1. parking in a space designated for a handicapped person,

2. unauthorized display of a special license plate or placard issued to a disabled person,

3. failure to return a plate or placard when required to do so by the motor vehicle commissioner, and

4. failure to provide the designated spaces for handicapped persons the law requires.

Requirements for Issuing and Using Placards

SB 499 (2008 regular session) would have established several new requirements with respect to the issuance and use of handicapped parking windshield placards, including (1) requiring anyone issued a placard to have either a Connecticut driver's license or a non-driver photo identification card, (2) requiring a placard to expire and be renewed when the recipient's license or identification card is renewed, and (3) establishing a $ 500 fine for using a placard issued to a deceased person. It died in the Senate. Several of its provisions were later incorporated in SB 1081 (PA 09-187).

SB 444 (2009 regular session) was virtually identical to SB 499. It died in the Appropriations Committee. Several of its provisions were later incorporated in SB 1081 (PA 09-187).

New Requirements for Placards and Plates

Sections 37 & 38 of PA 09-187 established several new requirements with respect to the issuance and use of windshield placards and special plates. Specifically, it:

1. required anyone issued a placard on or after January 1, 2010 to have either a driver's license or a DMV-issued non-driver photo identification card,

2. permitted issuance of a placard to the parent or guardian of any blind or disabled person if that person cannot request or complete an application,

3. authorized the Board of Education and Services for the Blind to certify legal blindness for these purposes,

4. required the commissioner to develop a procedure for renewing existing placards that may be implemented over a multi-year period,

5. required placards to be returned to the commissioner when the recipient moves to another state or dies (special license plates already had to be returned under these circumstances),

6. established a $500 fine for using a placard or special license plate issued to a deceased person,

7. required the commissioner to check periodically DPH's state death registration and cancel any placard issued to someone identified as deceased,

8. prohibited anyone from being issued special handicapped license plates for more than two motor vehicles, and

9. required the commissioner to evaluate alternative enforcement methods and certain other issues related to the handicapped parking laws and submit recommendations to the Transportation Committee (see below).

The act permitted the commissioner to adopt regulations for issuing placards to people who, due to hardship, do not hold or cannot get a driver's license or non-driver identification card. It also required him to maintain a record of each placard he issues to any such person.

Penalty for False Certifications

Section 24 of PA 10-110 requires people who certify handicapped placards and plates to sign the application or renewal application under the penalty of second-degree false statement. It adds physician assistants to those people who may certify that an applicant meets the federal definition of disabilities that impair a person's ability to walk.

Volunteer Enforcement of Handicapped Parking Laws

SB 409 (2010 regular session) would have required the commissioner, together with police departments in three municipalities, to conduct a pilot program to use civilian volunteers to enforce handicapped parking laws. The police department of each municipality selected to take part in the program would invite its residents to participate, and the police chief would select volunteers with the approval of the town's legislative body. DMV would report on the program and its results. SB 409 was favorably reported by the transportation, planning and development, and public safety committees, but died in the Senate.

DMV STUDY

PA 09-187, 38, required the commissioner, in consultation with municipal police departments, to review and evaluate alternative methods of enforcing handicapped parking laws in areas that police officer usually do not patrol. The study, issued January 15, 2010, is available on-line at http://www.ct.gov/dmv/lib/dmv/handicapparking.pdf.

DMV stated in the report that it surveyed members of the police chiefs association and reviewed procedures in other states. The survey suggested several possible ways to improve enforcement. These include:

Enforcement Sweeps

Noting that most towns issue fewer than 100 tickets a year for violations of the handicapped parking laws, several police chiefs suggested conducting three or four enforcement sweeps a year for violations of these laws. These sweeps also would serve to raise public awareness of the issue.

Media Campaign

Several chiefs suggested a public relations campaign, similar to the “Ticket or Click It” seat belt campaign, to raise public awareness of the problem. Such a campaign could occur at the same time as the enforcement sweeps. The chiefs proposed eliciting suggestions for the campaign from state residents and disability activists and organizations.

Enforcement by Citizen Volunteers

Some towns, such as Huntington, New York, use volunteers to issue affidavits to violators. In that program, which is non-confrontational, volunteers in cars photograph possible violations. They later send a card with the photo, date, and location of the offense, and a sworn statement that the vehicle was violating the law, to the program coordinator. The coordinator files and processes the affidavits in the courts.

Although some respondents to the survey said they used non-police officers to enforce parking laws, others expressed concern about citizens' authority to issue citations, or to access the Department of Public Safety's (DPS) COLLECT (Connecticut On-Line Law Enforcement Communications Teleprocessing) system to verify parking permit information. (As noted above, legislation to create a civilian volunteer program was proposed, but failed, in 2010.)

DPS “COLLECT” System

Several chiefs said there should be an easier way to verify handicapped parking permit information in DPS's COLLECT system. The report said DPS and DMV would have to work together to identify ways to verify the information.

Window Stickers

Another suggestion was to issue window stickers, rather than placards. This would help in those cases where a police officer issues a citation, only to discard it when the officer learns that the individual had a valid placard that he or she failed to display properly. But the DMV study notes that stickers could be a problem for residents driving out of state, because other states use placards.

Increased Fines

Although PA 09-197 increased fines for violations of state handicapped parking laws, the DMV study noted that more than half the tickets issued for these violations are issued under municipal parking ordinances. The study recommended increasing the penalties under these ordinances.

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