October 9, 2008
Police crack down on handicap parking 


GOFFSTOWN - This month would be a good time to keep an extra eye out for handicap parking spaces.

Statewide, the Legislature has declared October “Handicap Parking Awareness Month” and is urging all communities with populations of 15,000 people or more to hold at least two days of awareness. Goffstown went for the whole month.

“The Goffstown Police Department will be conducting no-tolerance parking enforcement of all handicap parking spaces within the town,” police said in a press release. “Anyone without a valid handicap placard in the front windshield or a handicap license plate who is parked in a handicap space will receive a summons.”

So far this year in Goffstown, police have handed out only 13 of them.

“We’ll see if we can increase that number,” said Officer Steve Chasin.

The month of awareness was not necessarily in response to increased abuse of the spaces for people with disabilities, according Wendy Beckwith, an accessibility specialist for the Governor’s Commission on Disability.

Instead, she said there was a persistent problem of people not understanding their purpose. “The people who need these spaces are not getting them, so there is an opportunity to try and make sure those remain open for the people who need them,” Beckwith said.

In their resolution, state legislators reminded citizens of the reasons, which go beyond the obvious need for someone with a disability to be closer to their destination. People who have loss of vision or hearing or have breathing problems also might find it difficult to cross a parking lot and, like those who have walking disabilities depend on the handicap spaces for their independence.

Besides accessibility, handicap spaces are also a matter of safety, according to state authorities.

The spaces, when paired with an access aisle, provide the extra room needed to lower a wheelchair out of a van. They further ensure that people bound to a wheelchair do not have to traverse a parking lot where they would not as visible to drivers.

The fines for violators are among the most expensive. In Goffstown, the town ordinance sets the fine at $50, well above $10 for most regular tickets. If an officer apprehends the driver, he can write up a summons under the state motor vehicle code, which has a penalty of $300, according to Goffstown police Sgt. David Rivard. “I thought it was less than $300,” Rivard said. “That’s a pretty hefty fine.”

State law imposes a minimum $50 fine on someone who illegally parks in the striped aisle next to a handicap space. The first offense is $50. The second is a minimum $100.

Chasin said most officers check handicap spaces as a matter of routine during patrols. The department won’t necessarily be doing more patrols in October, but Chasin said it was taking a zerotolerance approach to violations.

Even the public can get involved in enforcement, according to Beckwith. Anyone who notices a car illegally parked in a space reserved for someone with disabilities can take a picture and fill out a sworn statement in the local police department. That information is considered valid evidence to issue a ticket, unless the alleged violator rebuts or contradicts it.

Some of the more common abusers are no strangers to disabilities, Beckwith said. In some cases, perhaps a friend or a relative of someone who has the requisite permit will use it for themselves. In others, people with the permits might forget to display them.

Beckwith said advocates for people with walking disabilities also hope to spread the word to companies that do not always follow the guidelines when they are laying out the spaces.

The Governor’s Commission on Disability does not have a tally of how many people have either the handicap permits or license plates, but Beckwith expects that the number will increase as more Baby Boomers retire and as soldiers return from Iraq with disabilities.

Behind the push for more awareness and enforcement is the Central New England Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

More information is available on its Web site, www.msnewengland.org. The governor’s commission also has information on parking regulations and other related issues at www.nh.gov/disability.



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