August 18, 2002
It's Praise The Chron Day at Off the Kuff

For all the gritching I do about Houston's Trailing Information Source, the least I can do is single them out when they tell me something useful. Today's front page contains a story about how people abuse the privilege of temporary disability parking permits.

Disabled-person hang tags are portable. The recipient can use them in a second car, another person's car or even in a car pool.

But they are supposed to be used only by the disabled person. About 110,000 Harris County residents have the tags, more than 4 percent of the driving-age population.

A doctor must prescribe the tag based on state rules, including, primarily, that the person can't walk 200 feet without rest.

But there are at least four ways to cheat:

  • Find a lenient doctor. The Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector's office, which issues the tags, says it isn't qualified to question a doctor's opinion.

  • Forge a prescription.

  • Use the tag of a friend or relative when that person isn't in the car.

  • Steal it.

The Chronicle checked only for the last two -- using a borrowed or possibly stolen hang tag. The results weren't pretty.

All hang tags list the driver's license number of the owner, clearly visible from outside the vehicle. In a sample of 39 vehicles parked beside expired meters, the Chronicle compared the names of the people issued the license plates to those who were issued the hang tag.

Sixteen were clear mismatches.

A mismatch could, of course, mean someone was carpooling or borrowing a car. But follow-up phone calls and in-person interviews found none of those.

I've long suspected this was the case, having seen too many obviously healthy people entering and exiting cars with hang tags and no passenger in sight. Even still, I'm appalled at how high the fraud rate is and how little shame is displayed by the fraudsters. I hope this story leads to some action.

Be sure to also check out the sidebar story, which lists other places that these tags are abused.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 18, 2002 to Elsewhere in Houston

I was always borrowing the tag of a roomate with one, but then I decided that having one of those in an SLK without any obvious control modifications was pushing it.

Posted by: Laurence Simon on August 18, 2002 2:08 PM

I liked that they named names.

The Cadillac Escalade of attorney Robert Fuller Sr. was parked near the civil courthouse. Hanging from its rearview mirror was the tag of Inez Griffin.

Posted by: Michael on August 18, 2002 2:22 PM

When I was at Rice, I had a permit for the Sid Rich commuter lot for medical reasons. I frequently couldn't use that lot because of the sleazeballs from the Med Center who parked there illegally.

When I finished reading this article this morning, I was hoping HPD would sting these guys who were stealing handicapped tags and throw the book at them.

Posted by: Ginger on August 18, 2002 2:24 PM

My wife is in a wheelchair, so we have a legitimate handicap license plate. If she is not with me, I DO NOT park in handicapped spots. Too often there are none available when she is with me, and it makes a tough enough life just a bit tougher. Abusing these tags in the moral equivalent of, say, knocking down someone on crutches.

Posted by: Balcanicus on August 19, 2002 1:28 PM

But: I had HC plates when I was in Maryland - I needed them. I can give a remarkably good impression of an able-bodied person as long as I don't have to walk too far or climb more than about three stairs. Thanks to arthritis, this has been true since I was in my late 20s. (Actually, it's worse than that at the moment, but I'm hoping the physio will help.) I'm absolutely certain that people seeing me get out of my car were thinking, "That bitch is parking in a handicapped spot and she sure doesn't look disabled to me."

Posted by: Avedon on August 20, 2002 10:47 PM

I'm sure all the people who saw me getting in and out of my car at Rice thought the same thing. (I've had arthritis since high school.) That doesn't make it right for family members to abuse handicap tags.

Posted by: Ginger on August 24, 2002 1:23 PM

If a person is blind, are they qualified to get a handicapped hang tag? If they are being driven by a non handicapped person, why would a hang tag be needed? The person is blind. what would qualify them to need a tag?

Posted by: Sharon Jennings on October 13, 2003 12:46 PM