Like prime real estate, handicap parking spaces are all about location, location, location. But they're also about the law.
Chances are, you've seen a few able-bodied drivers illegally parked in handicapped spots. Some do so blatantly, while others hide behind handicapped permits for which they may or may not be qualified to hold.
So should you report handicap parking violators? Here are some issues to consider before calling for backup:
Does the vehicle display a handicap permit? Depending on your state, these permits can be temporary, permanent, or organizational (for groups that transport disabled people). So seeing an able-bodied person jump out of a van with an organizational handicap permit shouldn't necessarily be cause for outrage.
Appearances may be deceiving. Especially with temporary permits -- which can be issued to folks with a broken foot, for example -- a handicap-parking permit holder may be well on the road to recovery before the permit expires. To complicate matters, some states don't place expiration dates on handicap permits, thus technically allowing "temporarily" handicapped drivers to keep using their placards forever. This is the case in New Jersey, where a new bill aims to close this loophole, New Jersey's 101.5 Radio reports.
What are the penalties? Handicap parking violators are typically charged with a misdemeanor and forced to pay fines. So if your goal is to get the scofflaw hauled off to prison, that probably won't happen -- unless you're dealing with a repeat violator, who can potentially be charged with a felony in some states. A driver license suspension or revocation is more likely in such cases, however.
Who you gonna call? In general, only police officers have authority to enforce handicap-parking laws. But in some states like California, as the Bay Area's KNTV reports, local parking-enforcement officers can also have this power.
Perhaps YouTube shaming would be better? If police decline to take action, or if you just don't feel like making a big fuss, perhaps posting a video clip online can give you the satisfaction of publicly shaming the alleged handicap parking violator.
But be careful: You'll want to make sure your accusation is sound (and not potentially defamatory), and that you had a right to be on the property in question when you took the video of the handicap parking violator. Also, try not to provoke a physical fight with the allegedly non-handicapped scofflaw, otherwise you could possibly face legal action yourself.
Do you have more questions about handicapped parking? FindLaw Answers has a robust Traffic Law message board where you can usually get an answer to your issue within 24 hours. Feel free to join the conversation.