You Have NO Excuse for Parking in a Handicapped Spot without a Legit Tag. Really. None.

Every summer for the past five years, I have taken my kids to swim lessons at a local outdoor pool. The main parking lot is at the bottom of a steep, long hill, with the pool and locker rooms at the top of the hill. Signs clearly indicate that the only cars allowed up the hill are those needing one of three handicapped parking spots up there. Because I have a handicapped tag (and walking up and down that hill, carting swim gear and lawn chairs, would be very difficult), I drive up to the handicapped spaces. There are always two barricades at the bottom of the hill. For the past five years of pool visits, about half the time, I have found the barricades spaced so that I or other drivers with handicapped tags can drive between then. The other half of the time, the barricades are too close together and I have to get out of the car to move them—something I can do but that a driver with less mobility cannot. Knowing that the barricades are there to discourage other parents from driving to the top of the hill to drop their kids off just because it’s easier and more convenient, I have put up with this occasional moving of the barricades, although I know it’s not an acceptable practice.

Yesterday, I arrived at the pool to find that not only were the barricades pushed close together, but a large metal picnic table sat in the middle of the road leading up the hill. I moved the barricades. I drove around the picnic table (partially onto the grass). I explained to the young woman at the front entrance that it is not legal to restrict access to handicapped spaces. I thanked the two young women who came out and moved the picnic table. Later, as I packed my kids up to go home, I watched several drivers whose cars did not have handicapped tags drive up and park in the handicapped spaces to unload their kids. Then I went home and called the local police to suggest they go have a talk with the pool staff about the need to discourage illegal use of handicapped spaces without blocking access to those with a legitimate tag. 

All of this inspired me to re-run one of my most popular posts from last year, originally published on February 21, 2012.  Please share this far and wide if you are so moved. There is no excuse for parking in a handicapped spot without a tag. None. Zip. Zilch.

Several years ago, I drove my daughter Leah to school one icy morning. Because slippery, icy sidewalks are a danger to people like us with fragile bones, I pulled into the parking lot closest to the school entrance, where there are two handicapped spaces. Both spaces were full.

This is not an unusual occurrence. One spot is nearly always taken by a teacher who has a permit, leaving only one other spot for anyone visiting the school who also has a permit.

But this morning, the car in the second space did not have a permit. Anywhere. I looked, long and hard. Nope. No permit.

Because I really needed to park as close to the school as possible given the ice, I squeezed my car into the lined area between the two spaces. (The school has given me permission to park anywhere, including in the principal’s designated space or on the grass, if the handicapped spots are all full.) Leah went inside. And I sat there, waiting.

Along came a mom, Starbucks in hand. I got out of my car and said in the most friendly voice I could muster, “Excuse me. But I noticed you don’t have a handicapped permit on your car. I really needed to use one of these spaces this morning for my daughter, who has a physical disability.”

She mumbled something about how “My kid has something too” and “I left my permit at home.”

No, she didn’t leave it at home. She didn’t have one. I’ve gotten to know the other families, parents, and teachers at our school who have legitimate tags. This mom is not one of them. And in the years since this incident, I have never seen her park there again. I think she parked there because it was a cold, unpleasant morning and she didn’t want her or her child to have to walk far. And like most people who park illegally in handicapped spaces, she probably justified it with one of these common excuses.

1.         “I’ll only be a few minutes.”

I’m guessing that was this mom’s reasoning. But what, pray tell, are those of us with a legitimate tag supposed to do when we show up and all the spaces are full? Intuit that you’ll be back in just a few minutes? And then cheerfully cool our heels, knowing that we’ll eventually be able to park if we’re just patient? Regardless of whether, perhaps, we might need to be somewhere at a certain time?

2.         “I’ll only be a minute, and I’m staying in my car, so I can move if someone comes along who needs the space.”

And how will you know that someone needs the space? Will that person (again, cheerfully) get out of his/her car, come knock on your window, and say, “Excuse me. Would you mind moving? I need this space.” Oh, wait. These spaces are for people with physical impairments. So getting out of the car might actually be something of an ordeal, something they might like to do only once. Say, after they park in a designated handicapped space.

3.         “I/my family member hurt my/his/her knee/back/foot.”

Handicapped spaces are not for people with temporary injuries. If you have an injury that is more than temporary but not lifelong, you may be able to secure a limited-time permit, depending on your state laws. But you still need to go through the application process to do that. You can’t just decide on your own that you have a legitimate need for a handicapped space.

I know it can be hard and painful to walk long distances with an injury. Believe me, I know. But if your injury is temporary, you need to suck it up and deal. Ask someone to drive you and drop you at the door. Consider getting a cane or crutch to help you get safely from point A to point B. Make an appointment to talk to a doctor about pain management. Just don’t park in a space that is legally not yours to park in.

4.         “I’m driving my elderly aunt/grandfather/neighbor around for the day.”

That’s very nice of you. Next time you do someone this kind of favor, ask if they have a handicapped parking permit and if they do, suggest they bring it with them. You can temporarily put it on/in your own car. If they have a handicapped-designated license plate on their car, ask if they would like you to drive their car instead of yours to get the parking benefit.

If they don’t have a permit, or are unable or unwilling to bring theirs along, then drop them off at the door before parking the car.

5.         “My dad/grandma/elderly uncle died and I inherited his/her car, with a handicapped permit.”

OK. So I have no way of knowing, when I see a car with a legitimate handicapped tag, if that tag was procured for the person who is actually using it on this particular day. And I know better than to question someone’s use of a handicapped tag based on whether they “look” disabled. (Yeah. That? Don’t ever do that. You really can’t know someone’s reasons for having the tag at a glance. A friend whose child has my bone disorder once had a passerby yell at her for parking in a handicapped spot. I hope that passerby felt appropriately ashamed when she saw my friend pull her daughter’s wheelchair out of the trunk.)

But if you’re taking spaces away from people with wheelchairs and walkers and terribly arthritic knees just because you can, just because you happen to have a tag that you inherited from someone, but you don’t actually have any reason for needing such a tag?

Then you’re just a jerk.

Bottom line: If you don’t have a valid handicapped parking permit in or on your car—a permit that was legitimately issued to you or someone who is riding in your car—then don’t park in a handicapped space.



About Ellen Painter Dollar

Ellen Painter Dollar is a writer focusing on faith, parenting, family, disability, and ethics. She is the author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Faith, and Parenthood in an Age of Advanced Reproduction (Westminster John Knox, 2012). Visit her web site at for more on her writing and speaking, and to sign up for a (very) occasional email newsletter.

  • Emmanonymous

    “if you’re taking spaces away from people with wheelchairs and walkers and terribly arthritic knees”

    I don’t understand how this reconciles with the idea that disabled spots/tags are not for temporary injuries. I have a serious injury and am non-weight-bearing with crutches following surgery, and I’m just as limited in my movement as someone with a more permanent condition. I have to drive myself places and can’t always get someone to drop me at the door, and I need extra space to be able to maneuver in and out of the car with the large cast and crutches, and later to get onto the knee scooter. It’s only going to last a couple more months, for which I am very grateful, but during that time, I’m as physically limited as someone with a walker or terribly arthritic knees. If the condition were permanent, I’d definitely be allowed a permit, and there wouldn’t be a question “taking a space away” from someone else who needs it more.

    I would normally never think of parking in the reserved spaces, but I’ve always thought that the point of the spaces is to assist people who have a serious degree of difficulty getting around. I certainly don’t think “I twisted my ankle the other day” qualifies, but I’ve always thought that any major non-weight-bearing injury is morally justifiable. Can you explain why it’s different because I will eventually recover, even though my physical needs are the same at the time I need the parking spot? I would like to understand and not do the wrong thing.

    • Ellen Painter Dollar

      The point is that you MUST have a legal handicapped tag to park in a handicapped spot. If your injury is temporary, you can talk to your doctor to find out how to get a temporary tag. You can even ask a friend or family member who has a tag if they can give you rides or let you use their car. But legally, you must have a tag to use the spaces. You can’t just decide that you are above the law and don’t need a tag because the space is helpful to you. We don’t have a legal system in which people get to decide for themselves that they are exempt from laws. And people who “twisted my ankle the other day” do indeed decide they are justified in parking in these spots without a tag, which is why this needs to be enforced, even for those whose temporary injuries are more significant. If the injury is indeed significant, figure out how to get a tag. If you don’t have a handicapped tag, it is not legal to park in these spaces. Period.

      • Emmanonymous

        I didn’t know temporary tags were available for the shorter term. I’m fortunate to have always been in good health, but I’ve now had two surgeries to fix a torn ligament. I’ve been in a cast or aircast since January, and it’s been a real eye-opener about life with disabilities. Thank you, and I will ask my doctor about a temporary tag at my next visit.

        • Ellen Painter Dollar

          I think different states have different laws. It’s worth asking about. I know it seems a little callous to say, “Your temporary injury doesn’t count.” I know even temporary injuries can be a huge deal (the physical disability my daughter and I have essentially causes us to have frequent temporary injuries…forever!). But when folks decide they have a right to use the spaces without a tag, that really DOES affect those of us with lifelong issues. I’m lucky in that I CAN use a regular space if no handicapped spots are available. I don’t need the extra room for a wheelchair ramp, for example. For me, it’s more about being able to park close to an entrance, particularly if I’m carrying something. But I know people who really don’t have any other option than using a handicapped space and it’s frustrating if the spaces are taken up by people who don’t have a legitimate tag. There’s a big difference between being on crutches for a sprained ankle and being in a wheelchair full-time. I hope you’re able to figure something out. Good luck with your recovery!

    • Ellen Painter Dollar

      Oh, and the sentence you quoted above (“”if you’re taking spaces away from people with wheelchairs and walkers and terribly arthritic knees”) is directed at those who have no disability or injury but use a relative’s handicapped tag. That’s just not cool, and does take away spaces from those who need them.

    • Casey Rousseau

      In our state the process is simple to get a permit. Print a form off the DMV website, have your doctor, PA or APRN sign it and pay $5 at DMV for the temporary permit.

    • SusanRogersStLaurent

      Get a temporary placard. Please.

  • Keri Kennedy

    I will say it is not fair to others for even someone with a vaild handicap tag to use that stripped “blank” space. So what happens when the Jerk with no tag leaves and you are parked there? Someone who may need to load or unload someone in a wheelchair is now blocked in.

    I used to see this at my daughter’s school when she was in preschool A school office employee was “allowed’ to park there. It meant it was very hard for me to load or unload my child.
    (and sadly I complained to the police officer who was usually a that school and he did not care. Even when I was routinely blocked in by someone double parking behind me – again no tag).

    • Ellen Painter Dollar

      Agreed. I note in this piece that on that morning at my daughter’s school, I did pull into the lined area between cars, but that was only because I knew that the only two other cars parked there belonged to an ambulatory teacher (who was already inside for the day) and the other was the car that didn’t have a placard. Parking as close as possible to the school was the most important thing that morning (because of the icy conditions) so parking in the “lines” long enough for my daughter to get out and walk into school was my best option. But I agree with you and never squeeze into the lined area in any other situation.

  • SusanRogersStLaurent

    I’m in a wheelchair, and I loathe the “line parkers” as much as people who park without a placard. Those lines are there for a reason. If people park in them, I have no qualms about flinging my door open even if — oops! — I ding the door of their car.

  • Dave Parker

    > I pulled into the parking lot closest to the school entrance, where there are two handicapped spaces. Both spaces were full.

    Perhaps a different solution might make everyone (handicapped and non-handicapped) happier?

    Instead of exclusively “Handicapped” spaces, how about something like “Handicapped/10 second pickup-drop off” spaces?

    People with handicapped plates or tags could park in them as long as they wanted to, everyone else would have to be in-and-out within 10 seconds (from when their car stopped moving to when they had to start backing out).

    That’s similar to the scheme at my kid’s high school, where people with handicapped plates or tags could park as long as they wanted to in the “Loading/unloading only” spaces. When my son was in a wheelchair, we never had problems getting a space.

    I can think of many advantages to that kind of scheme. Three big ones are:

    1) handicapped people would now have enforcement allies: non-handicapped people in a hurry would complain if rude people were staying longer than 10 seconds in the spaces.

    2) more spaces could be designated as “Handicapped/10 second” because non-handicapped people could use them too. That would make it more likely that a space would be available for a handicapped person because it would take either a lot of handicapped people or a lot of rude people to fill them all for more than 10 seconds.

    3) instead of sitting empty most of the time, the “Handicapped/10 second” spaces could now save lots of people lots of time.

  • Tis

    wrong wrong wrong. if you park in a private lot (aka, almost any business or apartment complex) it is not illegal. my apartment complex is filled with cars – when i get off work, i have to park 40-50 spaces down when there are unused handicapped spaces right in front of my building. Honestly it makes me angry that people with mobility problems usually don’t have to deal with the parking hassles the rest of the public deals with. So a handicap tag makes you more privileged..? We’re all equal in my book. Make your way to the front door like everyone else honey,

    • Ellen Painter Dollar

      Most parking lots are privately owned, but proper use of handicapped spaces is still legally enforceable, just as most other laws apply to people regardless of whether they are on public or private property. As for your other arguments, you remind me of the kid who told me in second grade that I, who broke my legs several times a year, was “lucky” not to have to walk like everyone else. That’s not a compliment.

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