By Colleen Quinn
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
---- — BOSTON — State investigators found abuse of disabled parking in the city of Boston with drivers using placards of deceased people, parking privileges meant for friends and relatives, and placards of people who live out of state.
In June, the state Inspector General’s office, working with the State Police and the Registry of Motor Vehicles, began surveillance of cars in the North Station/Government Center and Financial District areas.
Investigators cross-checked placards against RMV data and found 88 cars that did not appear to be driven by the people assigned the disabled placard.
Anyone with a disability placard is entitled to park in designated disability spaces or park indefinitely in a metered space free of charge. With garage parking in downtown Boston costing anywhere from $5,000 to $6,000 a year, the meter exemption “creates a substantial incentive for unauthorized drivers to abuse placards,” according to an inspector general’s report dated Nov. 20 and discussed at an Inspector General’s Council meeting Thursday.
Inspector General Glenn Cunha has recommended the Legislature consider changing state laws to make using a dead person’s disability placard a criminal offense.
The report also recommends that the Legislature should require drivers to return placards that have been cancelled as a result of misuse or a move out of state, and institute civil penalties for failure to return a cancelled placard.
State troopers and IG investigators caught three drivers using placards belonging to dead people; eight drivers using placards belonging to relatives who were not in the vehicles; and two drivers using placards belonging to a co-worker who was not in the car, according to the report.
The drivers were cited and issued $500 fines, and State Police confiscated 13 placards. State law also requires the RMV to suspend a driver’s license for 30 days if they are found guilty of misusing a placard.
The inspector general’s office recommended lawmakers increase penalties for placard abuse, and the RMV increase enforcement, as well as tighten administrative controls to make abuse harder.
The IG also recommended the Registry appoint a liaison within its medical affairs bureau to educate local police departments about placard abuse. Waltham and Fall River already have enforcement programs, according to the report.
Cunha suggested the Legislature separate the meter exemption from the standard placard application and require each applicant to demonstrate a disability that prevents him or her from using a meter.
Investigators from the IG’s office and RMV last cracked down on disability parking abuses in 2010. Prior to that, there were investigations in 2009 and 2007. In 2007, the RMV redesigned the placards to make the expiration dates more visible.
Cunha was unavailable for comment after Thursday’s meeting.