Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I would like to respond to Dave McDonald of Woodbridge, who has noticed people with valid handicap plates or parking placards parking in handicap spaces and walking "briskly" into the store [Dr. Gridlock, May 13].
He notes that these people are "seemingly healthy, mobile individuals" who "don't have obvious disabilities" or a disability "was not readily apparent." The operative words in his letter are "seemingly," "obvious" and "readily." He further notes that he saw someone in a wheelchair who had to park farther out.
The lack of sufficient handicap parking is not the fault of people with disabilities who reached the space before the person in the wheelchair. It is the product of lack of planning by the stores, shopping centers and malls.
There are many disabilities that do not require the use of wheelchairs or other devices. The requirements for placards and plates include a doctor's certification that the person has a disability.
There are many people who have physical limitations that would not be visible, yet they limit mobility a great deal. I know of several people who, because of multiple sclerosis or fibromyalgia, may have little problem making it into the store from the handicap spaces but can barely make it back after shopping without a great deal of pain. Even "running in" to the store to pick up a medication refill can cause great pain.
Please trust that the DMV does not allow any person who just walks in from the street to get the handicap parking plates or hangtags.
There is some confusion over who qualifies for handicap parking and about the difference between hanging placards and license plates and who can use each, so I've consulted Marcia Meredith, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. Here's what she says:
A person who wants to qualify for handicap parking status must fill out a DMV form, Med10, that's available at branches and on the DMV Web site, www.dmv.state.va.us.
A doctor must certify the disability, whether permanent or temporary. Among the criteria the DMV stipulates to doctors is that the patient must have a condition that limits or impairs movement or the ability to walk, which can include heart or lung disease, or a condition that creates a safety concern, such as blindness, deafness or Alzheimer's disease. There are other conditions.
Once the form is filled out by the applicant and the doctor, the DMV will automatically issue the handicap tags or placard. The DMV, by law, cannot reject an applicant with a properly filled out form, Meredith said.
People with permanent disabilities may choose either a blue portable placard to hang from the rearview mirror or a handicap license plate. In either case, the person must be in the designated vehicle for it to occupy a handicap space.
Permanently disabled status expires in five years and must be renewed. Temporary placards, which are red, are good for six months. There are also green placards for institutional, nonprofit vehicles that transport people with disabilities.
Anyone who suspects the abuse of a handicap plate or placard can report the license plate to the DMV at 804-367-6602, and the agency will investigate, Meredith said.
My sense is that proper use is based on the honor system. I hope we are all being honorable.
Better Place to Park
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
In response to Steve Rothenberg's letter regarding parking space pilferers at Tysons Corner, I would like to suggest an option [Dr. Gridlock, May 13].
About two years ago, at Christmastime, an employee at one of the large department stores in the mall mentioned to me that rather than wait for a parking spot right in front of the store, which can be extremely frustrating, he heads up to the top floor of the parking garage, where he never has a problem finding a spot.
I've been doing it ever since, and it makes all the difference in the world.
Joseph E. Young
Less stress, too. Thank you for that tip.
Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.
Dr. Gridlock appears Sunday in the Metro section and Thursday in Extra. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers to receive e-mail, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, town, county and day and evening phone numbers.