Whether you are a shop owner, a disabled person or a non-disabled driver, you should be aware of the laws that govern handicap parking spots. Parking in a space marked for the handicapped without a tag allowing you to do so can draw a stiff fine. More important, it's harmful to people who need those spaces. In addition, improperly obtaining a handicap parking permit -- either a license plate or placard -- is illegal.
A handicap parking sign indicates that a spot is reserved for a person with a disability who has been issued a special permit to park in such spots. Unlike a handicap bathroom stall, for example, a handicap parking spot is always off-limits to non-disabled people: They cannot park there even if no disabled people are present.
Handicap spots are located as close as possible to accessible entrances. The amount of handicap-accessible parking spots is determined by the overall number of spots in a parking lot. Exact ratios vary, but, in general, 2 percent of all parking spots must be handicap-accessible and have the proper signage.
According to the American With Disabilities Act, each handicap parking spot must be marked with a sign featuring the international handicap symbol -- a stylized figure in a wheelchair. This sign must stand at a height above that of a regular car so pedestrians and fellow drivers can see the sign at all times. Furthermore, spots specifically designed for handicap vans must have an additional "van accessible" sign as part of the regular accessibility sign.
Placards and License Plates
In order to park in a handicap spot, you must have a special permit issued by your state's bureau of motor vehicles. Permits can be placards that you hang from your window or mirror or special license plates. People with placards must display their placards in a visible place to avoid a ticket. Note that non-disabled drivers are allowed to park in handicap-accessible spots as long as they are with a passenger who has a valid disability and permit.
You can receive a temporary handicap placard from your state's motor vehicles bureau if you are temporarily disabled because of surgery or some other condition. This placard has an expiration date and cannot be used after that date. Cars with expired handicap placards or plates are subject to the same fines as non-disabled drivers' cars when parked in handicap spots. If you believe that you qualify for a permanent placard (which is still subject to renewals), you must reapply with the bureau of motor vehicles.
If you do not have a handicap parking permit and park in a handicap-accessible spot, you are subject to a ticket. Fines vary from state to state, and in recent years have risen into the hundreds of dollars. If the sign itself does not comply with current codes, you may be able to appeal the ticket. Check with your motor vehicles bureau or city council for more information.