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Driving tips

Don’t rush to judge disabled parking ‘cheater’

Published July 16, 2013
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Someone parked in a “no parking” zone downtown using a disabled parking permit, but he sure didn’t look disabled as he walked away. Next time I see cheaters like this, I’m going to record video and post it online to embarrass them.

Related: More readers write in about disabled parking ‘cheaters’

Eric Lai responds:

I spent many years transporting elderly and disabled persons as a Red Cross volunteer, and would caution against “video vigilantism.”

Not all disabilities are visible. Some persons with serious medical conditions may appear fine but have difficulty walking long distances. Prosthetic limbs can be hidden beneath long pants; even if not concealed, these can often look quite realistic.

An accessible parking permit (APP) allows special parking privileges, but permit holders may not park in no standing/no stopping zones, loading zones, fire routes, bus bays, nor block driveways, fire hydrants or mass pedestrian entrances. No payment is required for metered city parking spaces.

In Toronto, I often had to drop people at the doorway of their destination, move the vehicle to park at the nearest legal spot with an APP, and then rush back to assist them.

So, yes, an observer would see someone park with an APP then run off, but the vehicle was legitimately being used at the time to transport a disabled person.

Could I have taken the time to find a non-APP parking spot? Yes, but one patient who stopped breathing and required CPR is lucky I didn’t.

Another example is when I picked people up from medical appointments. I’d get there early, park in a designated disabled parking spot, and then walk around until the patient was brought out. Again, full compliance with APP rules but, yes, you’d see an ambulatory person wandering about.

Sometimes, due to a mix-up, you’d see me driving away without a patient, but no intent to “cheat” was present.

In any case, accessible parking permit applications must be certified by a medical practitioner and either a temporary (eg. broken leg) or permanent APP, with renewal every five years, is issued.

Does fraudulent use of APPs occur? Probably. But, it’s not your job to play cop or vigilante, and you might do serious harm.

A friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer two years ago. In between bouts of chemotherapy that made him ill, he sometimes felt well enough to treat himself to a restaurant visit and would park in a disabled spot with an APP.

While this young man might have looked all right at first glance, in reality, he was a frail, emaciated version of his former self. The last thing he needed was to be confronted by a parking cop or a self-righteous vigilante to “prove” his disability.

Rest assured he no longer uses an APP. He died last fall, leaving a wife and three young kids. He was only 36.

Email your non-mechanical questions to Eric Lai at wheels@thestar.ca. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.

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