Parking This Holiday Season

December 5, 2012

This time of year is especially enjoyable as we come together with friends and family to celebrate several important holidays. However, the month or so between Black Friday and Christmas Day marks one of the most hectic periods as many Americans shop online, in stores and in our local community to prepare for the upcoming holidays. Believe it or not, a record 247 million shoppers turned out to visit stores and websites on Black Friday alone.

During this time, we must be mindful that handicapped parking spaces are reserved for those who require less walking distance to a store or business. Many times, the hustle and bustle of a crowded parking lot can mean parking far away from an entrance, making it all the more important to respect these rules. After speaking with a constituent who brought this issue to my attention, I wanted to share some information about the handicapped permit, how it is obtained and the penalties for parking in these spaces.

There are two steps in applying for a permit. First, one must have a qualifying disability that is permanent and that affects mobility. These include the use of oxygen, legal blindness, limited use or no use of one or both legs, the inability to walk 200 feet without stopping, a neuromuscular dysfunction that severely limits mobility, a class III or IV cardiac condition (according to American Heart Association standards), severe limitation in the ability to walk due to an arthritic, neurological or orthopedic condition, or restriction due to lung disease.

Second, one must obtain certification of the disability from a licensed physician, a physician’s assistant, an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (ARPN), an optometrist or an ophthalmologist. The DMV also accepts a Veterans Affairs disability certificate.

Once completed, the final special permit application and impairment certificate must be mailed to the Department of Motor Vehicles, Handicapped Unit, 60 State Street, Wethersfield, CT 06161. It may also be faxed to 860-263-5556, emailed to [email protected] or brought in person to any DMV office.

The permit itself is only for the exclusive use of the person with disabilities who has permission to park in these reserved spaces. It may be used for any vehicle in which the disabled person is riding. A temporary parking permit may also be obtained for a temporary disability for a period of six months.

How many permits are there in our state? According to the Office of Legislative Research (OLR), the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) reported that “as of July 8, 2010 there were 317,935 active permanent handicapped placards, 10,413 active temporary placards, and 7,975 special license plates.” While this number has likely changed since then, it is a good illustration of the number of people who require specialized parking.

In 2010, the DMV phased out the “lifetime” designation for permanent disability permits. Since then, these permits are now valid for the same length of time as a driver’s license or identification card which is usually six years. After expiration, the license and permit may be renewed together. This change was put into effect to protect those with disabilities from having their spaces used by those who might no longer require special parking privileges.

What happens when someone parks in the spot? The penalty for violating the handicapped parking law is punishable by a $150 fine for the first offense and a $250 fine for the second and subsequent offenses. Other penalties may also be enforced due to local ordinances as well. It is also important to refrain from parking in the area next to a space often marked with diagonal lines because certain vehicles use this area for wheelchair access.

Now that the holiday season has once again arrived, I encourage you to have a safe and enjoyable experience shopping or just spending time with loved ones. And ultimately, please be mindful that handicapped parking spaces are set aside for those who require special access to grocery stores, malls and other local businesses.