Admit it. This has happened to you.
The parking lot is full, except for a nice, long row of empty, beckoning disabled-driver parking spots. A dozen of them! Those unmistakable, blue-and-white wheelchair icons are practically jumping off the tar-black asphalt, taunting you.
You might tell yourself: I could pull into one of those vacant spots and make a run for it. It would be wrong, I know, but not that wrong.
But then you tell yourself: I'm law-abiding, supportive of accommodations for the disabled and don't want a ticket. So I'll just keep playing this annoying, vulture-like parking-lot game where I idle and wait for someone to pull out.
If you live in Bakersfield, though, you're almost twice as likely as drivers statewide to tell yourself this: Ha! I've got grandpa's disabled placard. He's not using it, so I will.
Which, of course, would be illegal.
California drivers take that risk often enough to keep DMV officers plenty busy handing out tickets — 351 of them statewide last month alone, including several in Bakersfield, a veritable gold mine for handicapped-space citations.
The state Department of Motor Vehicles has long been dispatching teams of investigators to cities throughout the state as part of an ongoing effort to educate and train the motoring public, but the agency has really stepped it up over the past year.
In fiscal 2016-17, DMV organized 165 operations, resulting in 1,625 citations, then dialed it up by 50 percent in 2017-18, staging 256 operations and dispensing 2,485 citations. (They're especially fond of trolling for violators at the Stagecoach and Coachella music festivals in Indio, the Rose Parade in Pasadena and the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona.)
But they love Bakersfield. Love, love, love.
In the past 17 months, DMV's badge-wearing, sidearm packing investigators have visited Bakersfield 11 times (including six months straight), Delano twice and Tehachapi once.
In that not-quite year-and-a-half, DMV officials asked 509 Kern County drivers to show proof they're authorized to be parking in those specially designated spaces. Eighty-nine could not do so and were cited — and their placards confiscated.
Based on that 17.5 percent citation rate, Bakersfield drivers are far more willing to risk a ticket by parking in a disabled spot illegally than California drivers as a whole. Statewide in fiscal 2017-18, DMV investigators issued tickets in 9.5 percent of the instances where they asked drivers to show them the appropriate documents. And they're on track in 2018-19 to issue tickets 9.1 percent of the time.
Disabled-parking violations that take place within Bakersfield's city boundaries are infractions that will cost the illegal parker $285. But California municipalities can set fines for that offense at whatever they'd like, and some have set it at $1,000. It could be worse: The fine print on those blue placards says it can go as high as $4,200.
Some municipalities consider these violations misdemeanors, not mere infractions. Knowingly using a disabled placard that belongs to someone else is technically fraud.
In Chicago the penalty is a $500 fine and 30-day license suspension for the first offense, a $750 fine and one-year license suspension for the second offense, and a $1,000 fine and revoked license for the third.
So $285 seems like a pretty good deal. In a city with such a high violation rate, should we be offering good deals?
DMV spokesman Jaime Garza, noting that investigators have heard every excuse known to man, says DMV's efforts — enforcement and social media the chief tools — seem to be paying off.
"What we have noticed over the last 2-1/2 years is that people are noticing there's an issue here," Garza said. "We are making inroads."
DMV welcomes tips, but vigilante enforcement is discouraged — and not just because confrontations can be dangerous. Some qualifying disabilities are not visually apparent and allegations of misuse may be unfounded.
The state motor code allows placards for drivers with heart, circulatory or lung diseases, conditions that significantly limit the use of lower extremities, vision problems and loss of lower extremities or both hands. All an applicant needs to get one is a doctor’s note.
So the apparently able-bodied guy who just parked 20 feet from the automatic sliding doors at Walmart could well deserve the disabled placard hanging from his rear-view mirror.
DMV carries out 24 of these enforcement operations a month. They'd do more, but these are the same investigators who look into odometer tampering and unlicensed vehicle dismantlers, who can be involved in auto-parts theft.
This is my approach to crowded lots: Park a good distance from the store, where spaces are plentiful, and walk 300 feet. More often than not, you'll walk past the same idling cars, and same walking-averse drivers, you passed on the way in. Chances are, based on our respective preferences, they'll need disabled parking placards before I will.