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Handicapped Parking Spaces Can Tempt Healthy Drivers

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RALEIGH — It is closer and more convenient, but would you take a handicapped parking space from someone with a true disability? Police say it happens all of the time, and drivers are getting away with it.

When you see people hop out of a car that has a handicapped placard suspended from the rear view mirror, but then walk without much effort, do you ever wonder what their disability is?

"I'm not supposed to walk," says Brenda Richardson.

She does not feel she has to elaborate on why she has a placard.

"They look at you and say, 'There's nothing wrong with you. Why do you have a handicapped sticker?' she says. "But you know, all handicaps are not seen." And many people whose medical circumstances do qualify them for the placard don't feel as if they should be called on to defend their situation, or explain it, to passersby who may inquire. They feel their health information is their own private business. -->

If a person has difficulty walking from one end to the other of a city block without stopping to rest -- or can convince a doctor that it is a problem -- the handicapped placard can be obtained. It is as simple as getting a doctor to vouch for an infirmity.

TheNorth Carolina Division of Motor Vehiclesissues and renews 11,000 placards a month. It says it is impossible to check with every doctor to make sure the disability is genuine.

"In most cases, we accept that application at face value," said Carol Howard, vehicle registration director. "The questions we would ask about a medical disability -- well, many times the customer is hesitant to give us that information."

In Raleigh, a person can park at a meter all day for free if the vehicle has a handicapped placard on display.

"The vast majority of the illegal use goes unreported, it's undetected," acknowledges Raleigh Police Capt. Dennis Poteat. "We know that because we continue to get reports on these situations, but there's very little, if anything, we can do about it. We've counted as many as 16, 17 handicapped decals on a given corner in one day."

Downtown business owners say abuse of this law takes spots from their customers.

"I've had three knee surgeries. I'm sure if I had to, I could get one, but the fact is that's not fair," said Joe Sciolino, a business owner.

No one is more upset by abuse of the handicapped placard system than people with true disabilities.

"I've stopped people and told them, 'You ought to be ashamed of yourself,'" said David Gamerdinger.

It takes a lot of work for Gamerdinger to get into his van. Without a handicapped spot, it is even harder for him to get out.

"It's frustrating to anyone when you have to park way down at the other end of the parking lot and you have to wheel yourself up a hill to get into the place," Gamerdinger said. "It's hard."

Gamerdinger wishes people who abused the law could roll a mile in his shoes.

Handicapped placards can be acquired through the mail. They require only a doctor's signature and $5. Most are good for five years.

The DMV believes a lot of the abuse results from relatives "borrowing" the placard of a handicapped family member or using it after the person has died.


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