Wednesday, October 26th, 2011
Ever wished you could report someone who parks in a spot for the handicapped but doesn’t have the appropriate decal or license plate? There’s an app for that: It’s called Parking Mobility, and it enables people to snap a photo of a vehicle parked in a spot without a handicapped plate or placard and zap it to city officials, who issue a ticket. Twenty percent of the fine goes to the charity of choice of the person who reported the offense.
The Austin City Council recently granted preliminary approval for locals to use the app. Similar measures for nabbing motorists illegally parked in disabled spots are happening in other cities; this summer, Tulsa, Oklahoma organized a squad of volunteers to track down vehicles parked in handicap spaces without proper permits. Fort Worth, Denver, and Wichita have programs like that, too.
I’ve had knee-jerk reactions over the years to seeing people seemingly illegally parked in spots for the handicapped. Once, at a local mall, I walked by a handicapped spot where a young mother and her friend had just parked. There was no handicap decal visible. I watched the moms take their babies out of the car, and literally stood there and glared at them. “Do you have a problem?” one of them asked. Yeah, I had a problem, as a mom of a kid with disabilities—and as a human being in general. “I’m not sure why you parked there,” I said. “It’s none of your business!” she replied in a hostile tone of voice. At which point, I gave her a pointed look and left. If there were a policeman nearby, I would have said something. What I could have done, I later learned, was noted down the license plate and reported it to a local police precinct.
True, it’s easy to make wrong assumptions as there are people with “invisible” disabilities who may at times neglect to hang up their identifying tags. I’d honestly never considered this until I wrote something about special needs things that make you go “ARRRGH!”; several readers spoke up about those who are unfairly accused of taking an accessible spot because they don’t look disabled. One woman with rheumatoid arthritis described herself as “being a healthy-looking 28-year-old.” Some days, she noted, she couldn’t make it from a far parking spot into the grocery store because it was too painful—why she needed a handicapped spot.
Still: If you were rightfully registered for a disabled person parking placard and got a ticket for not having it, you could produce it and get the ticket waived. That seems like a small price to pay for nabbing unethical people who grab a spot for convenience. Studies supposedly show that more than one in four vehicles in disabled parking are there so illegally; last year, Austin alone issued 1200 tickets to people illegally parked in spots reserved for those with disabilities. In July, there was an uproar when a parking official caught the Los Angeles Lakers’ Andrew Bynum allegedly parking his BMW in spots at a food market reserved for the handicapped, earning him the nickname “Los Angeles Faker.”
Of course, no matter what sort of measures there are to catch people in the act, three’s also the issue of people illegally getting those parking decals in the first place. It seems like there also needs to be crackdowns on doctors and other experts who enable people to get plates and placards for disabilities that they don’t actually have.
Some are disturbed by the Parking Mobility app; one newspaper columnist described it as a “serious infringement of civil liberties” and said it could promote vigilantism. To me, though, this seems like one concrete way to curb the problem.
What do you think about an app that enables people to report those who unrightfully park in parking spots for the handicapped?
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