CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) - It happens every day; drivers illegally take parking spots meant for people with disabilities.
The 22News I-Team investigated the magnitude of the problem, and discovered a staggering number of people are cheating the system.
Bill Sirard of Chicopee has a disability placard. He told the I-Team, he got it 8-years ago because it's difficult for him to walk across the parking lot. "We have these because some people can't walk. That's why I have one."
Sirard said it's particularly frustrating when drivers illegally park in a handicap spots. "Once a year probably you'll see that," he said.
A viewer sent 22News a photo of a Hampshire County sheriff's car parked in a handicapped spot in a parking lot on New South Street in Northampton.
Major Daniel Hart of the Hampshire County Sheriff's Office told the I-Team the car's battery died, and that was the closest space off the street.
When the I-Team went there to investigate, the sheriff's car was gone, but another violator was parked in the same exact spot, no placard, no handicapped plate, and no citation.
The I-Team discovered, it's a common crime. In 2017, police issued 842 handicap citations in Springfield, 118 in Northampton, 84 in Greenfield, and 10 in Chicopee.
Springfield had the highest number of handicap violations in western Massachusetts last year, a majority of which took place on two streets, Main Street, and right here on Bridge Street.
The Springfield Parking Authority's Thomas Moore told the I-Team, violators target Main and Bridge Streets because they're in the central business district.
He said the Parking Authority has at least two enforcement officers patrolling the streets every day, looking for violators. "If someone is in violation of the statute by parking without a placard showing, then that's essentially when they're getting a ticket. Or if they have some kind of makeshift placard that's not a legitimate placard, then they would get a ticket."
The state recently passed a law cracking down on violators. Starting in July, the penalty for fraudulent use of a handicapped placard will increase from $100 dollars to $500 dollars, and you could lose your license for 60 days instead of 30.
For people like Bill Sirard, the new laws are a long time coming. "It's very good. I'm glad they're doing something about it."
MassDOT told the I-Team, there are more than 440,000 active handicap placards in Massachusetts.
Handicap Placard Eligibility Requirments:
To obtain disability plates, a placard or a disability veteran plate, you must be a Massachusetts resident. A Massachusetts registered and licensed physician, chiropractor, registered nurse, physician's assistant, osteopath, optometrist (for legally blindness only) or podiatrist must certify that you meet one of the following conditions:
Cannot walk 200 feet without stopping to rest.
Cannot walk without the assistance of another person, prosthetic aid or other assistive device.
Are restricted by lung disease to such a degree that your forced (respiratory) expiratory volume (FEV) in 1 second, when measured by spirometry, is less than 1 liter.
Use portable oxygen.
Have a Class III cardiac condition according to the standards set by the American Heart Association.
Have a Class IV cardiac condition according to the standards set by the American Heart Association. A customer in this condition must surrender their license.
Have Class III or Class IV functional arthritis according to the standards set by the American College of Rheumatology.
Have Stage III or Stage IV anatomic arthritis according to the standards set by the American College of Rheumatology.
Have been declared legally blind (please attach copy of certification). A customer in this classification must surrender their license.
Have lost one or more limbs or permanently lost the use of one or more limbs.
To be eligible for a temporary placard, your medical professional must certify that your disability is predicted to last at least 2 months.
Per: Registry of Motor Vehicles
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