Do you ever wonder why it’s often impossible to find a parking spot on the streets of Southern California?
An undercover investigation by NBCLA exposes one of the main reasons why: more and more people are fraudulently using disabled placards, to park free at meters and on streets where the parking is supposed to be for residents only.
The problem of placard misuse has become so rampant, that NBCLA found in some neighborhoods almost every parked car is displaying a disabled placard, leaving no place for the rest of us to park our cars. We found this sections of downtown Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, and Westwood.
"I come here every month and I’ve never found a spot to park on the streets. Never," says Amy Adams, who shops in downtown L.A.'s Fashion District.
For two months, NBCLA's hidden cameras watched a 10 square block of downtown, where we noticed almost 80 percent of the cars parked at meters had disabled placards.
The law says you can only use a placard if you’re disabled or driving someone who is disabled.
But week after week, we see able-bodied business owners and workers displaying placards on their rear view mirrors.
Take the case of a young man named Bobby. We see him parking his white Honda at a meter in front of the dress shop he owns, putting up a placard, and parking free all day.
We see him bending, and doing lot of heavy lifting at his dress shop. How could he have a disabled placard issued to him?
Our investigation found the placard he uses, is actually issued to a man who’s 70 years old.
Just a few doors down, we see a young woman parking her Nissan at a meter across the street from the clothing store she manages, and putting a placard up.
DMV records show the placard she uses belongs to someone who’s 79 years old.
Around the corner, we see a fit-looking young man parking his black Hummer with a disabled placard in front of the men’s suit shop he owns.
Our investigation shows he's using a placard issued to an 81 year old man.
Because so many business owners and employees are fraudulently using placards to park, there are almost no meters left for the people who shop here, like Amy Adams. She had to park her car in a more expensive pay lot.
When NBCLA told Adams many of the meters were taken by placard cheaters, she replied, "I think everyone of those people should be forced to live in a wheelchair for a month."
NBCLA found 11 out of 12 drivers we watched were using placards issued to someone else, which is a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum $3500 fine and/or up to six months in jail.
The opportunity for placard abuse is on the rise. More than one in ten California drivers now has a disabled placard; that number has doubled in the last decade.
"It’s in total disregard of the intent of what that placard is for," says DMV Chief Vito Scattaglia, after watching NBCLA's undercover video of the drivers using other people's placards.
NBCLA asked the DMV's Scattaglia, "Is this one of the most blatant examples of fraud you’ve seen?”
"Yes," replied the DMV Chief.
So how would the people we caught on video, explain why they’re using other people’s placards?
We asked that woman who ran a dress shop where she parked her car every day. At first she said she parked it in a pay lot and denied she used a disabled placard. But when NBCLA confronted her with video of her parking and using a placard, her boss stepped in and ordered her not to talk to us. "Shush, shush," her boss said to her as NBCLA tried to question her.
Down the street, Bobby--the young man who owns a dress shop, admitted to NBCLA that he's been using his elderly father's placard so he can park free in front of his store.
"We think of it as saving $150 or $200 at the end of the month," says Bobby.
He claimed he didn't know it was illegal to use someone else's placard, and wouldn't do it again. So we saw him get in his car and drive off. But an hour later, we spot Bobby's car parked a block away at another meter, still displaying his father's placard.