Everyone's heard the story: Grandma has a disabled parking placard. She dies. But for some reason, the DMV keeps mailing new placards to her home.
So, one of grandma's able-bodied relatives sticks the placard illegally in his car so he can get free street parking and good spots in store lots.
We heard from several people this week about this after we wrote about the growing number of vehicles parked downtown workdays sporting disabled placards. City officials say they want to take more steps to root out abusers.
The short answer is yes, it happens. DMV is aware of it. Officials say they don't know how often. Here is how, though:
When someone dies, county officials send death information to the state Vital Statistics branch. The DMV collects that information and cross matches it with its placard database.
If there is a match, the DMV will mark the person as deceased and stop sending placards. But, if the person, or doctor or a caregiver put down a different name or incorrect birth date on the application, the DMV may not be able to make the match with the death certificate, and won't know the person is dead unless the family contacts them.
Another, potentially bigger issue arises every other year when the DMV mails out 2.2 million new placards. The next mass mailing is set for June 2013. The DMV's final pre-mailing check of the deceased list, however, is in January, four or five months earlier, DMV officials said.
Officials say 50,000 or more placard holders die annually. That means as many as 20,000 may die after the DMV's last check, but before the placards are mailed. A placard will be sent to those homes. DMV officials say they can't close that gap further because of other steps that need to happen before the mailings.
That means every other year, about 20,000 relatives of deceased disabled people have an ethical choice to make: to cheat or not.
DMV official Andrew Conway says families should and do return placards.
Those who decide to use the placards can get caught. The city of Sacramento, for instance, has two full-time placard enforcement officers who stake out vehicles, sometimes checking out a car for several days. When the driver approaches, the officer can ask that person to show his placard registration card to prove the placard is his, not a relative's. If not, the city will cite the person and confiscate the placard.
Some readers say the state should put the disabled person's photo on the placard. That won't necessarily help police. But it may make things more dicey for cheaters strolling out of their cars in disabled spots in the Walmart lot.
The city of Sacramento has a hotline to call for those with solid information about placard abuse. It is (916) 808-5563.