Like most people, I've been known to take a casual approach to certain traffic ordinances when it suited me. Some of these are easier to rationalize than others - I was just going with the flow of traffic, honest! One law I've never been tempted to mess with is the one governing handicapped parking spaces. So articles like this always surprise me a bit.
In most states, people with handicapped placards, plates or stickers can park in designated handicapped spaces and often can park for free at a meter.
But it's illegal to borrow someone's placard -- a plastic tag that hangs from the rearview mirror -- and use it without the person being in the vehicle. It's also illegal to use the placard of someone who has died or to park in a handicapped space without a permit.
Governments are getting tougher because more placards are in circulation and the public has become more aware of their abuse, said Tim Gilmer, editor of New Mobility, a Horsham, Pa.-based magazine for wheelchair users with active lifestyles.
Disabled people have become more vocal about their needs, said Terry Moakley, a United Spinal Association spokesman.
"People just don't want to settle for no access or second-rate access," Moakley said.
Massachusetts is urging its police to crack down after a yearlong investigation culminating in August discovered that nearly one-third of the placards found on cars parked in downtown Boston were being used by people who were not disabled.
"It strikes a nerve with people," said Ann Dufresne, spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles. "They are taking spots away from those people who really need it."