A state law seeking to crack down on abusers of disabled parking privileges will require eligible Spokane drivers to visit a doctor before visiting the licensing office.
Those seeking a renewal of disabled parking placards, tabs and license plates are now required to submit a signed doctor’s prescription or a doctor’s note on official letterhead. That changes a system dating to the late 1990s where drivers needed only to submit a doctor’s name, medical license number and signature in order to receive their parking notices, then just a signature in the mail to renew their privileges every few years.
Washington legislators changed the law last year to cut down on drivers without ailments who forged paperwork to receive disabled privileges, or who used the placards and plates of relatives or acquaintances to obtain prime parking spots. It took effect July 1, and already the Spokane County Auditor’s Office has had to turn away some drivers who were unaware they needed to visit a doctor before applying for a renewal.
“The doctor essentially has to write a prescription every time someone wants a renewal,” Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton said.
The law also ups the penalties for drivers who abuse the system. Obtaining disabled parking credentials through fraudulent means is now a misdemeanor offense with penalties up to a 90-day jail sentence and fine of $1,000. Previously it was a traffic infraction with the heftiest punishment a $250 ticket.
Those eligible for renewal will continue to receive notices in the mail but will be required to submit the prescription or note with their application, said Grant Prouty of the auditor’s office.
Prouty said the new rules shouldn’t affect the workload at the courthouse but will act as a check on forgery.
“People would bring in signed forms, and we had no idea that it didn’t come from a doctor,” he said of the previous system.
Other changes extend the amount of time drivers can use a temporary disabled parking placard, which is red instead of the usual blue. The placards used to be good for six months; they are now issued for up to a year. The auditor’s office also can issue tabs to disabled drivers that allow them to keep vanity plates for local colleges and sports teams, Dalton said.
In the coming months, new placards will be issued with larger serial numbers and the expiration date so law enforcement can easily identify noncompliant drivers, Prouty said.
Placards will continue to be issued free of charge. Standard charges for plates and tabs will continue to apply, she said.
The law does not change the legal definition of a disabled driver. Those motorists who generally cannot walk for more than 200 feet without assistance may apply for permits. Permanent placards will continue to be issued for a five-year period, with motorists needing to visit their doctor when that time is up.
The state law also does not affect local parking laws, which allow disabled motorists to park for free at selected parking meters for several hours, Dalton said.
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