They are almost everywhere -- those blue or red plastic placards that dangle from the rear-view mirror.
They're officially called Disabled Person Placards by the California Department of Motor Vehicles. For the current year, there are just over 2.6 million DP placards issued in California.
Types of Disabled Parking Placards:
Permanent (Blue): These are for people with permanent disabilities. They are valid for two years and expire on June 30 every odd-numbered year. DMV will automatically mail a new placard and identification card. But the plates and/or placards must be returned to DMV within 60 days of the death of the disabled person.
Temporary (Red): These are meant for people who have temporary disabilities, such as following surgery or suffering some kind of serious but not permanent injury. They're valid for a maximum of six months (or less, depending on what a qualifying medical professional says). They cannot be renewed more than six times consecutively.
Travel Placards for Californians: These are valid for only 30 days and can only be used by residents who have permanent DP placards.
Travel Placards for Non-Residents: If a person is traveling to California and has either a permanent disability or DP placard from the individual's home state, that person can qualify for a DP placard for up to 90 days.
These are all in addition to the permanent DP license plates.
Placards carry some pretty good parking perks. For instance, placard holders can pull into any of those spots marked with the wheelchair symbol, the International Symbol of Access. Those are the places that provide easy access to stores, markets and offices.
They also allow parking at on-street meters without feeding them. And you can stay there as long as you want. Parking is allowed next to blue-painted curbs that are reserved for people with disabilities and next to green painted curbs that normally indicate limited time parking. Placard holders can also stay there as long as they want.
You can park in areas that are normally reserved for people with resident or merchant permits.
There are a few places that are still off limits -- even with a placard. Red curbs are still red curbs -- no stopping, standing or parking at any time. Yellow curbs are only for commercial vehicles that load and unload passengers or freight. And white curbs still can only be used for loading and unloading passengers or depositing mail in an adjacent mailbox.
You don't have to own a car, have a drivers license or even be of driving age to qualify for a DP placard. A disabled child can get a DP placard, as can a child or adult with severe mental disabilities. But those can only be used when the person to whom the placard is registered is in the car.
You might qualify for a DP Placard if you have lung or cardiovascular disease or a diagnosed disease or disorder that severely affects mobility or limits vision. The loss of limbs or extremities can also qualify a person for a DP placard.
To get a DP placard, or the permanent DP license plates, you need to submit an application to the DMV. In most cases, the application must be signed by a licensed physician, surgeon, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, certified nurse mid-wife, chiropractor or optometrist.
It's against the law to use someone else's placard when he or she isn't in the car. The penalties are stiff. Violators can be fined up to $1,000 for the first offense and up to $3,500 for subsequent offenses. It's a misdemeanor to use someone else's placard, so it's also punishable by up to six months in jail. On top of that, the Court can impose a $1,500 civil penalty. And authorities can confiscate the placard.
It's also illegal to lend your placard to anyone else, or to provide false information or forge a medical professional's signature to get a placard or license plate. And it's against the law to possess or display a counterfeit card or license plate or to alter a placard or placard identification card.
When it comes to parking fraud, the offenses - and penalties - are even more serious. Forgery can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or felony. If prosecuted as a misdemeanor, the penalties can include up to one year in jail. And if it's a felony, the violator could be looking at as long as three years behind bars, plus as much as a $10,000 fine.
It might be cheaper to just feed the parking meter or walk just a little farther.