Lawmakers, Advocates Aim to Crack Down on Handicap Parking Abuses


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HARTFORD — Angry and frustrated over non-disabled people using handicap placards when parking, Mary Caruso and her daughter, Alexandria Bode, decided to do something about it. 

Bode, a North Branford resident who has a rare genetic progressive neurodegenerative movement disorder called Friedreich’s ataxia, founded Peace, Love & ACCESSibility last year with the goal of improving accessible parking.

Caruso, who works with her daughter at the nonprofit, told CT Examiner that the organization has connected legislators, disability activists, and police departments in Guilford, North Branford, East Haven and Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven to raise awareness of the problem. Bode created a training flier for Guilford police, who distributed it to their officers. 

“We are asking police departments [around the state] to consider one day a year dedicated to enforcement of handicap parking. Just one day,” said Caruso, who said officers currently “don’t have a lot of guidance” when it comes to enforcing the laws on the books.

On the political front, House Republican Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, is backing legislation that would require individuals with handicap placards to get approval from their personal treating physician, and relaunch the Accessible Parking Advisory Council to look into abuses in the system. 

Currently, Candelora said, residents can obtain approval for a handicap placard from any physician in the country. Often, he said, those seeking placards will go to one of several online platforms that advertise the service, which could cost upward of $150 with a physician’s approval. Getting such a placard via the Department of Motor Vehicles, however, is free.

“You want the applicant’s treating physician to do this,” Candelora said. “Under the laws, the physician needs to verify the condition that gives rise to a handicap placard, and if the physician is not telling the truth, they are subject to criminal [offenses].”

State Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, co-chair of the Transportation Committee, is an ardent supporter of the proposal.

“The treating physician would certainly know whether or not a patient needs this accessible parking placard,” she said.

Cohen explained that the issue “is really multifaceted” but that “at the heart of this is making sure those who are in the disability community and really need these placards are receiving them, and that the abuse of them discontinues. We are trying to get those bad actors [doctors] and make sure that only those who truly need the placards get them.” 

The law, as it stands now, does not penalize doctors for issuing a placard to someone who may not need it. Several criteria exist for receiving a placard, the primary one being that a person must not have the ability to walk 200 feet without stopping or assistance.

Candelora also said he was irked that the 10-member Accessible Parking Advisory Council was created about 15 months ago, but has yet to meet.

“When are they going to meet?” he asked. “I’m very disappointed in the DMV and the commissioner that they have not yet held a meeting. We’ve been waiting too long to try to address these issues.”

DMV Commissioner Tony Guerrera told CT Examiner that the council will meet for the first time on March 18. 

“We just had to make sure all the appointments were filled. But we will get the process going,” Guerrera said. 

The council will report back to the state Legislature by January 2025 on how to better address handicap placard fraud.

According to the DMV, there is a $250 fine for parking in a space without a placard or having an unauthorized placard. There is also a $500 fine for someone using a placard that belonged to a person who is now deceased. About 200,000 individuals in Connecticut have handicap placards, which are valid for six years and typically expire when the person’s driver’s license expires. 

“The council will look at streamlining [the process] to make sure that whoever is applying for a handicap placard is someone that needs a handicap placard and to put a time limit on it. So, therefore, it does not go from generation to generation,” Guerrera said. “… We want to develop a strategy to track, deter and prevent fraud and misuse regarding the windshield placards. For people with family members who are handicapped, it’s just not fair.”

Robert Storace

Robert Storace is a veteran reporter with stints at New Britain Herald, the New Haven Register, the Connecticut Post, Hartford Business Journal and the Connecticut Law Tribune. Storace covers the State Capitol for CT Examiner. T: 203 437 5950