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.

Contact The Californian’s Robert Price at 661-395-7399, rprice@bakersfield.com or on Twitter: @stubblebuzz. His column appears on Sundays, Wednesdays and Saturdays; the views expressed are his own.

(5) comments

forrestfaulkner

I have a placard for disabled parking. I have CMT and unless I am having severe pain in my legs ( electrical impulse type that shoots up and down both legs that feels exactly like when you get zapped touching a spark plug wire on a running engine ) I will not park in a space to which I can legally do. I have to walk with the aid of a cane or forearm crutches when my legs are at their worst. I admit that I do get angry when I see people who park in these spots with absolutely no placard or plate permitting them to do so and have seen very young people who quickly exit the vehicle and trot into the store with vigor and no apparent need to be parked there. The very worst place in Bakersfield for violators of disabled parking is at the Dollar General Market on the corner of Alta Vista and Bernard. Nearly every time I go there ( which is frequently since it is only about 5 blocks from my house) there is at least 1 if not both of the disabled parking spaces located in the side lot most frequently full that have vehicle(s) parked there with no placard displayed and no plates showing the need to use the space. Just recently I went there and had a rough day with my legs so really needed to be as close as I could get. Both spaces were full as well as all of the rest of the side lot. I parked in the lot behind and as I was walking toward the entrance a man walked up to me saying that he needed a jump start. He was one of the people parked in the 2 spots with no placard and no plates. I told him that I had cables and would help him when I was done in the store if he was still there. Now mind you he looked at my cane and even commented how cool he thought it looked. When I came out of the store he was still there. I went to my car and put my items in the back floorboard then headed to where he was parked. As got close I popped my hood and trunk to get my cables out but I also grabbed my placard and hung it on my rear view mirror. After I got his car running and my cables back into my trunk I went to the front to close my hood and the guy was thanking me. Then I pointed to my placard and asked him how many people that were eligible to park here were not able to for all the time you have been parked here? He then asked why I gave him a jump start if I was upset that he was parked there. I told him that he just did not get it then, I told him that I did not do it to help him. I did it to help the next person needing the space

JimmyDude

I'm all about the handicapped spots for people who need them and I also prefer to park away from the front and register a few extra steps for the day. I guess if you're going to have the spots and the laws you have to enforce them but why is that DMVs gig? Shouldn't they be directing more effort and resources to increasing efficiencies in their offices? Especially with the Real ID thing? I tried to get an appointment a couple weeks ago and there's nothing available for 3 months which is as far out as the appointment system goes. Had to go wait in line, stood there for 2 hours, systems went down and they had no clue when they were coming back up, so I had to leave and go back the next day. Oh, and how about updating the ancient computer systems to allow for credit / debit card payments? So, this turned into a riff on DMV, so be it. Such a horribly run, inefficient, out of date agency.

Boogerface Nutter

Like Mr Price, I've always preferred to park a long way from the entry to the business of my choice. It has little to do with the handicapped spots, more to do with my feeling that those who park closest and idle all day long to do so, also throw their car doors open with abandon and will chip or dent my car without caring one bit.
I also assume I might burn a few extra calories on the walk and earn myself a trip to Cinnabon.

gkozy1

Yep,
Cinnabon you say. I thought it was the candy aisle. No wonder i cant lose any weight. 😂😂

gkozy1

I qualify for a placard. But prefer to park away from wild shopping carts and wayward doors. On days that i may feel a little more rough than usual i will lean on a shopping cart on the way in and out. I keep thinking that maybe one day Walmart may give me a 10% discount for cart retrieval.
Wish me good luck on that one.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.