Individuals with disabilities can obtain a handicap license plate or placard, but this won't provide any help if parking lots do not have designated and accessible handicapped spaces. The American with Disabilities Act, a federal law, provides the minimum standards for handicapped parking spaces.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
The American with Disabilities Act, a federal law, requires a minimum of one van accessible parking space in every parking lot. As the size of a parking lot increases, the minimum number of accessible parking spots also rises.
Handicap Parking Overview
Based on the ADA and state laws, private businesses and public agencies must provide a specified number of accessible handicapped parking spaces, which must be of a minimum size and have proper signs. The designated spaces may only be used by individuals who have a handicap license plate or windshield placard issued by the state. The ADA modified the rules in 2010, and any new or upgraded parking lots must follow the new guidelines. However, parking lots that were created before 2010 only need to follow the 1991 standards, which did not require as many designated parking spaces.
Minimum Number of Spots
The minimum number of parking spaces depends on the size of the parking lot and is subject to change. However, based on ADA standards, for lots with one to 25 spaces, there must be at least one designated handicapped parking space. The number increases with the size of the lot, requiring roughly one handicapped spot per 25 spaces. A lot with 151 to 200 total spaces requires six accessible parkings spots with one van space while a lot with 401 to 500 spaces requires nine accessible parking spots, including two van spaces.
For lots with over 1,000 spaces, the law requires 20 accessible spots, plus one handicapped parking space for every 100 spots over 1000. For every six handicapped spaces, there must be at least one van-accessible space. Moreover, medical facilities must provide more handicapped parking spaces, up to 20 percent of the lot in some cases.
Accessibility for Disabled Drivers
Handicapped spaces must be placed in a location that provides the shortest and most accessible route to a handicap-accessible entrance of the building. Additionally, the spot must be at least eight feet wide, and have an adjacent aisle to the space that is at least five feet wide. Van-accessible spaces must be at least 11 feet wide. There must be a path from the aisle to the entrance of the building.
Parking Sign Requirements
Handicapped parking spaces must be properly designated with a sign located at least five feet above the ground. The sign must have the "Universal Symbol of Accessibility," which is the standard blue and white image of an individual in a wheelchair. Signs for spaces for vans must include the phrase "van-accessible." The access aisles must also be marked with diagonal stripes. The ADA does make an exception for parking lots with four or fewer spaces, as well as residential parking lots where the spots are assigned to a particular dwelling, where signs are not required.
Penalties for Parking in a Handicapped Spot
It is against the law for individuals without a handicap license plate or placard to park in the designated spaces. The violation is a civil infraction, with the penalty set by state law, such as $50 to $150 in Connecticut (and the possibility of a tow). Additionally, failing to properly provide spaces is also a crime, charged as a misdemeanor in some states such as Iowa. The Department of Justice enforces the ADA, and may bring charges against individuals or businesses who do not comply with the handicap parking requirements, which may include civil penalties of up to $150,000, depending upon whether it's a first violation.