Parking in spaces reserved for persons with disabilities

The holiday shopping season is upon us.  Parking lots at the malls, shopping centers, and groceries stores are filled to capacity.  You have circled the parking lot three times.  Nothing is open.  You see an available parking space, but it is reserved for persons with disabilities.  You only need to run into the store for a few minutes.  It’s just this one time.  You’ll be right back.  Can you park there?

Unless you have and need a disabled parking license plate or placard, the answer is no.

Why?  Because persons with disabilities need those spaces.

In order for an individual to obtain a disabled license plate or placard, a doctor or other medical professional must certify that the individual has a temporary or permanent disability that limits or impairs the person’s ability to walk, or that creates a concern for the person’s safety while walking.[1]  Disabled license plates and placards are restricted to individuals who:

  • Cannot walk 200 feet without stopping to rest;
  • Cannot walk without a brace, cane, crutch, another person, prosthetic device, wheelchair, or other assistive device;
  • Suffer from severe lung disease;
  • Use portable oxygen;
  • Have a serious cardiac condition;
  • Have an arthritic, neurological, orthopedic condition, or other debilitating condition that severely limits or impairs the ability to walk;
  • Have been diagnosed with a mental or developmental amentia or delay that impairs judgment such as an autism spectrum disorder;
  • Have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia;
  • Are legally blind or deaf; or
  • Have some other condition that, in the view of a licensed physician creates a safety concern while walking because of impaired judgment or other physical, developmental, or mental limitation.

Reserved parking spaces are more than a mere convenience for people with disabilities.  They are essential to their safety and well-being, and are necessary to protect them from further injury and harm.

Many disabled individuals experience pain and are unsteady on their feet when they walk.  For them, the ability to park in a space that is located closer to the front door of the building can make all the difference between being able to get out of their vehicle and go into the building, or having to give up, go home, and try another day.  For individuals who are in a wheelchair, having the extra space that a disabled parking space provides is essential in order for them to maneuver in and out of their vehicle safely – or at all.  Regular parking spaces simply do not have enough space for wheelchairs and other assistive devices.

The reality is that taking a parking spot from a person with a disability, even if it is just for a few minutes, can prevent that person from being able to get in and out of their vehicle, run their errands, go to the store, or see a movie with friends or family members who have traveled from near and far to be with them.  This is particularly devastating when one considers that for many disabled individuals, the process of getting dressed and ready to go out can be difficult, frustrating, and time-consuming.  Simply stated, parking in a disabled parking space – even for just a few minutes – can prevent a handicapped person, and their loved ones, from having an outing that they have been planning and looking forward to for a long time.

What are the penalties for parking in a reserved space without authorization?

Parking in a reserved space without authorization can result in a parking ticket, imposition of a fine up to $500 per offense, and by having the vehicle towed from the property and impounded. Localities are permitted to establish their own fines for unauthorized parking in reserved spaces.  For example, violators in Henrico County, Spotsylvania County and Charlottesville can be fined up to $500 per offense.Other localities that have established their own fines include the City of Richmond ($200), Hanover County ($150), Petersburg ($150), Chesterfield County ($100), and Stafford County ($100).

What about the striped area next to a parking space reserved for persons with disabilities?

The striped area adjacent to reserved parking space is called the striped access aisle.  In 2019, the General Assembly enacted legislation that makes it illegal to park in the striped access aisle, as well.

What are the penalties for falsifying a disabled parking placard?

Falsifying a disabled parking placard can result in more serious consequences.  It is a Class II misdemeanor that is punishable by fines up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail.

So, if you are tempted to park in a space that is reserved for disabled persons, please don’t.  Leave those spaces for individuals who need them.  It is the right thing to do, and it is what law requires.