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More MS news articles for June 2003

Think before you park

Fines for parking illegally go way up

Friday, Jun 20, 2003
By Allison Steele
Monitor staff
Concord Monitor

If you're in the habit of pulling into a handicapped parking space when you stop to mail a letter or when you need to dash into the store for a minute, you might want to start following the rules. Thanks to a bill signed into law yesterday, anyone in the state caught parking illegally in a handicapped spot will now be handed a $250 ticket.

Advocates hope that the law, which refines several handicapped parking regulations, will make it easier for police officers to ticket violators. In addition to increasing the state's minimum fine for parking in a handicapped spot from $50 to $250, the law defines the striped access aisle next to a handicapped space. Though Concord already has a city ordinance prohibiting parking in the aisles, it was not previously prohibited under state law. But park in one today, and you'll get a ticket for at least $50. Do it again, and the fine doubles.

"It's an assumed thing, not to park in that place next to the spot," said Cheryl Killam, who works for the Governor's Commission on Disability. "But if you want it enforced, you have to make it specific."

And to make it easier to track parking offenders, whenever a person with a walking disability sees a car parked illegally in a handicapped space, that person can photograph the car to show to the police later.

Signed by Gov. Craig Benson yesterday morning, the bill was developed by members of the Central New England Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Judy Hallam, a Meriden resident, brought the problem to the chapter's attention after finding that other cars were consistently blocking access aisles that she needed to get her wheelchair into her car. Soon, others who had experienced the problem joined her. The bill was introduced by Sen. Robert Boyce of Alton, who sponsored it along with several other lawmakers.

Nancy Ashton, a Concord resident, was one of several people with walking disabilities who testified before the Senate earlier this year. It's nothing less than a daily battle to find a handicapped spot that isn't being blocked or used by someone else, she said.

"People are in a rush," she said. " 'I'll just be a minute,' they say to themselves. I've seen it at supermarkets, at Wal-Mart, even in doctors' parking lots."

Because of limited staff in the parking department, it can be difficult to aggressively target people who park illegally in handicapped spots, said Dave Florence, Concord's parking manager. Even so, city workers go after as many as they can. Since last July, parking attendants have written 538 citations for handicapped parking violations. Nearly half of those were later voided when people were able to prove that they had forgotten to display their handicapped placards.

Also, when someone parks in a handicapped spot briefly, they are often gone by the time the police arrive to ticket them. For that reason, the provision allowing photographs was added to the law.

"The police can be very reluctant to ticket right away because they want to see who's driving the vehicle," said Killam. Sometimes it's a senior citizen, she said, in which case the officer may decide to issue a warning instead of a ticket.

It is difficult to reliably measure how often handicapped spots get taken by people who are not supposed to use them, Killam said. However, people who block access aisles are even harder to measure. Since the aisles have not been defined until now, there have been no specific fines that can be imposed for blocking them.

Many times, Killam said she's been blocked in by someone parked in an access aisle. When she calls the police, the best they can do is offer to tow the car (and she doesn't always feel like waiting around for that). Usually, she just asks the police officer to back up her car for her. Sometimes, to avoid the problem, she said she parks diagonally over two spots to ensure she'll be able to get in.

"How many people have to think about whether they're going to be able to get back in their car when they get back to it?" Killam said. "I have to think about it every day."

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