Back-Seat Driver

State auditor digs into questions of disabled placard abuse

A disabled parking placard is displayed in a car window on J Street in downtown Sacramento in 2012.
A disabled parking placard is displayed in a car window on J Street in downtown Sacramento in 2012. Sacramento Bee file

For years, we’ve seen rows of cars parked on downtown Sacramento streets with disabled placards in the windshields, benefiting from state rules that allow them free parking with no time limit.

How many of them are in the hands of able-bodied people committing fraud? It looks like the state for the first time may get a sense later this year.

Responding to legislative request, the state auditor is launching a review of the Department of Motor Vehicles’ disabled placard program, including looking at what the department does to combat fraud. The request was made by Assemblymen Eric Linder, R-Corona, and Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles.

Nearly 2.6 million placards are in use in the state, issued to licensed drivers, nondrivers with disabilities and organizations that transport disabled people. There are 26 million licensed drivers in the state. The DMV does not track how many of the placards go to licensed drivers.

Among areas the auditor will explore: Are medical providers vouching for people who aren’t really disabled under state definitions? Have some people been issued more than one placard? How many placards are still out there even though the owner is deceased? How many placards remain in circulation after they are reported stolen?

The audit could take six months or more. The findings could lead to changes in the way DMV handles placards and could provide data to support new laws.

“While I hope the DMV is proactively enforcing the eligibility guidelines of the program, high-profile media stories suggest otherwise,” Linder said in an email Friday.

The DMV issued a statement saying that it will work with the auditor and that it “takes abuse ... very seriously because these products help ensure accessibility for more than 2 million disabled Californians.”

Gatto, in an email Friday, said the issue is about fairness: “This sends a clear message to the disabled community that we support their right to accessible parking and we won’t tolerate those who abuse this program.”

Disabled advocates have generally opposed attempts to curtail placard use, saying placards allow disabled people to get around the community.

Pat McConahay of Disability Rights California said her group welcomes the audit, however. “We hope it will give us some solid information about placard use, and that it will identify and correct weaknesses in the system.”

She said the group doesn’t believe placard fraud is rampant. In some cases, she said, a person’s disabilities may not be obvious to the eye, causing others to mistakenly think a person is misusing a placard.

Pioneer Bridge surface fixed

A troublesome $26 million pavement resurfacing project on the Pioneer Bridge over the Sacramento River is finally done – except for some ramp work – and officials say they believe the surface will stay put.

The Caltrans project, called Sac Decked Out, involved spreading a three-eighths-inch polymer surface on the half-century-old bridge that carries Highway 50 over the river between Sacramento and West Sacramento.

Large strips of the material began peeling up days after it was laid down in 2014. The cause appears to still be up for debate. The extra work is covered by the warranty, so Caltrans will not pay extra costs.

Contractor Clint Myers said the new patchwork appears solid. “It drives well,” he said. “We didn’t see any other issues. Everything should be fine.”