I-Team: Triangle rarely punishes handicap parking violations

CARY, NC (WTVD) -- CARY -- Like the rules of real estate, accessible parking has its value in location.

In an earlier ABC11 I-Team investigation, drivers complained of not enough accessible spaces to meet the demand. In this investigation, the I-Team focused on the enforcement of accessibility parking codes and law, and what happens if and when there's a violation.

"You don't know everyone's condition or need or whatever," said Beverly Miller, a Cary resident whose husband is a disabled veteran. "You wonder sometimes, but are you going to challenge it? No."

We met Miller in a Cary shopping center, and again found most of the accessible parking spaces on the lot full. She explained the process of her and her husband applying for and being granted a special license plate signifying indefinite accessible parking privileges.

According to North Carolina law,a doctor must certify to the NCDMV that the applicant for a license plate or placard has a mobility impairment linked to one or more of the following conditions:

  • Lung disease,

  • Defective vision

  • Heart disease

  • Arthritis

  • Neurological/Spine issue

  • Orthopedic injury

If the applicant is granted a placard, it will come complete with a registration number and expiration date, in addition to listing the name and address of the person to whom it's assigned.

When it comes to enforcement, though, police can only inspect cars parked in spaces on public streets; officers cannot visit a private parking lot without being called there first.

Miller says she is reluctant to ever make that happen.

"It's my time that I'm wasting waiting for police," Miller said. "My time is precious to me and if I have to wait an hour for police to show up and issue a ticket - no, I'm just not going to do it."

The I-Team learned Raleigh Police issued just 29 citations for accessible parking infractions, including the misuse of a placard. In Cary, police there reported 39 citations.

"That's the way it is, unfortunately," Miller lamented. "People abuse it absolutely."

As to the first focus of the I-Team investigation - the number of spaces allotted in a parking lot - the I-Team learned there's not much enforcement there either, especially after a business opens.

Backed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), federal and state regulations mandate the number of accessible parking spaces in a lot. The law also requires one van-accessible space for every six accessible spaces in a parking lot.

RELATED: Minimum Number of Accessible Parking Spaces, 2010 Standards (.pdf)

Laurel Wright, the Chief Accessibility Code Officer for the North Carolina Department of Insurance, explains the check and balance for those requirements apply to the process before the business or complex is in operation.

"The requirement is initiated in new construction because you have to have some form of enforcement and that form of enforcement is a permit," Wright says, adding that it's a building inspector who will hold that permit until the plans satisfy the law. "If there's an issue, there's no violation. The developer will not get the permit until they fix the problem."

Again, after that, there's not much to be done on a local or even a state level. If a business chooses to re-stripe a parking lot, the business must follow the code, but there's no permit needed or inspection for that re-striping process to happen.

Instead of the threat of fines or violations, Wright said she actually thinks the market will be a stronger determining factor in improving the situation for those needing more accessible parking.

"We have an aging Baby Boomer population, and as they age they become less mobile," Wright told ABC11. "If they choose not to go to a business because there's not enough parking, then the business won't get their money. That will speak volumes."
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