A handicap parking placard is placed on the rearview mirror of a vehicle, and allows for parking in specially designated spaces. The placard must be visible to park in the space, forgetting to hang it from the rearview mirror is not an excuse. It is issued by the state that the person who requires the privilege lives in, and it is valid in all 50 states.
Placards are issued by the state's motor vehicle department, on a doctor's recommendation. The placard does not need to be for the driver, someone with a qualifying condition can use it as a passenger. The placard has expiration information printed on it. A driver who has a handicap license plate may also receive one placard.
Some of the qualifying conditions include heart problems, use of oxygen, inability to walk at least 200 feet without resting, or the use of a cane, crutches or prosthetic. A person who uses a wheelchair also qualifies.
International Symbol of Accessibility
The International Symbol of Accessibility is easily recognized. It's a stick figure of someone in a wheelchair. The handicap placard has the symbol on it. The designated spaces also have a sign with the symbol. The sign must be at least 60 inches off the ground, and clearly visible. Most handicap parking spaces have the International Symbol of Accessibility painted on them, although it's not required by law.
There must be one handicap space per 25 spaces in a parking lot. The space needs to be by a crosswalk, and be near the building's most accessible route. The spaces need to be at least 60 inches wide, and have room for an aisle to get in and out of the vehicle. One handicap space out of eight needs to be van accessible, at least 98 inches wide. Van spaces need to be marked on the sign. Cars with a handicap placard or license plate are allowed to park in van spots.
It is illegal to park in a handicap space without a handicap placard or license plate. It's also illegal for someone with the proper placard or plate to park in a designated space without the person to whom the privilege was issued. Fines for parking illegally in a handicap spot vary from state to state. The average is $250 for a first violation. Some counties impose even harsher punishment. Abuse of handicap parking laws in some counties can run fines of $500 or more, and even include community service.