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A recent television crew reported that one fourth of drivers in California are using disabled parking placards fraudulently.  Others have reported widespread abuse of a system implemented to aid those with disabilities so that they can easily get to and from places they are visiting. This week, in the American Journal of Medicine, an editorial reviews the reasons behind the disabled parking system, reasons for its abuse, and recommendations for changing this system.

Parking permit laws were initially designed to reduce transportation barriers for the disabled. The process for physicians prescribing these placards is not standardized and often does not rely on objective criteria. There is no formal training for those prescribing these placards. In California, one of the criteria for prescribing a placard is “a diagnosed disease or disorder which substantially impairs or interferes with mobility…”. Another criterion lists a “significant limitation … of the lower extremities.”  The word limitation is left to the prescribing physician’s discretion.  States also have a wide variety of differing criteria. In New Mexico, the inability to ascend or descend more than 10 steps is a criterion. In Georgia, being hearing impaired is a criterion. Washington and Montana list “acute sensitivity to automobile emissions” as a criterion.

This editorial points out that physician’s questionable medical practices “undoubtedly” contribute to the problem of abuse. Under privacy laws, the Department of Motor Vehicles cannot ask why individuals have a placard. In Maryland, when enforcement officials attempted to investigate doctors’ prescriptions, they were met with a fierce response from the medical community.

The editorial concludes with the following recommendations for those prescribing disable parking placards:

  • Adhere, in good faith, to the criteria for these applications.
  • Remember that inappropriate prescribing leads to less available spaces for those who need it.
  • Learn to decline placard requests when they are not indicated and use that time as a teachable moment. For instance, overweight individuals may benefit by parking farther away from the site they are visiting and walking.
  • Reinforce that placards are only for when the disable person is driving or is when the car is being used by someone driving or waiting for the placard holder.
  • States need to be clearer in their language regarding what constitutes appropriate use of placards.
  • Efforts to educate healthcare professionals about the proper and improper use of placards need to take place.

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