It always amuses me when I see a healthy young man grab a handicapped parking space, place a placard on his rear-view mirror, jump down from the perch of his giant pickup truck, run into Wal-Mart, walk around and shop for an hour, climb back in the cab, remove the placard from the mirror, then try to run everyone over getting out of the parking lot. He probably thinks the space is reserved for mentally challenged drivers such as himself.
SB 303, introduced by state Sen. Mike McGinness, a Republican from Fallon, would require medical evidence of a disability from a physician to accompany an application for a handicapped parking placard. Currently, an applicant’s doctor only has to sign the back page of the application that is submitted to the Department of Motor Vehicles. No supporting documents proving his patient is eligible to receive a privileged parking space at the mall is required.
According to the DMV website, there are certain criteria to be met before qualifying for a reserved parking placard. The first is obvious: You must have a disability that limits or impairs your ability to walk. Just because you are collecting disability payments doesn’t and shouldn’t automatically qualify you unless you can’t walk 200 feet without having to rest or need assistance from another person, use a wheelchair or another assistive device.
A person using portable oxygen or who has a class three or four heart condition also is eligible for a parking permit. The DMV notes that blindness or impaired vision is not a valid reason to receive special parking privileges, however such a person’s caregiver might be eligible in some cases.
SB 303 would make physicians more accountable. If they are suspected of approving an application for handicapped parking that is not medically justified they could be subject to a medical licensing board hearing and could face a fine up to a $100,000. Wow! That should clear the parking lots in a hurry.
So why are the handicapped parking spaces always taken? In most cases one space for every 25 standard spaces is reserved for the disabled. But it might not be enough to meet the needs of the truly disabled Nevadans because of doctors falsely approving too many special parking applications.
The Associated Press quoted a report stating that Nevada had 434,000 active handicapped placards issued as of March. That is about 12 percent of our total population. But the numbers don’t seem to add up unless a lot of people pretended they fell off a ladder or dislocated their back playing slot machines this winter.
The DMV says 17 percent of the more than 2 million registered vehicles in Nevada carry a special handicapped parking permit. That would amount to about 340,000, which seems more believable. According to the 2009 census there were 375,910 people over the age of 5 years old with a disability. Subtract the disabled under 18 and add a year of new registrations and the DMV numbers are probably accurate. It’s scary to think that almost one out of every five vehicles registered in Nevada are driven by people who can’t walk more than 200 feet. I should talk — I can’t walk at all.
Being handicapped myself, former Sparks Mayor Tony Armstrong appointed me to be a member of the Sparks Advisory Committee for the Disabled. All of the members, without exception, were dedicated and responsible citizens committed to protecting the rights of the disabled. They insured safe and convenient public access for the less fortunate segment of our society. And they stood up and fought for blind people in our community to be able to safely cross the main streets in Sparks.
They personally examined access to public buildings and facilities in restaurants and casinos for violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act. One of their main concerns was the illegal use of handicapped parking spaces. Although they were limited by legislation at the time, passing SB 303 will be testimony that they have achieved their goals both personally and collectively.
If doctors would stop approving parking permits for every disabled person who wants one but doesn’t need one, and if some drivers who don’t need one had a little more consideration for the ones who really do, the only ones left to falsely use the dedicated parking spaces would be drivers who are mentally challenged.
David Farside is a Sparks resident and political activist. The polemics of his articles can be discussed at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.thefarsidechronicles.com.