Virginia law allows people with handicap-parking privileges to park in any legal space, but certain spaces are set aside specifically for them. The penalties for misusing these spaces can be steep--and the penalty for misusing the vehicle-identification materials that signify handicap privileges can be even steeper.
Only vehicles that display government-issued handicap-parking license plates or placards may park in spaces marked as reserved for the disabled. These plates and placards are issued in Virginia only to people whose disabilities "impair or limit" their ability to walk; other disabilities are not eligible. Further, vehicles with handicap-parking tags can park in handicap spots only if the disabled person is the driver or a passenger in the car. In other words, a car with only able-bodied people inside cannot park in a handicap spot even if the car has a handicap tag. Handicap-parking privileges are given to a person, not a vehicle; handicap tags merely signify that a disabled person is using a particular vehicle.
Handicap-parking violators face a fine of $100 to $500, depending on the jurisdiction. The registered owner of the car is liable for any fines, regardless of who was driving at the time.
Fraudulently obtaining a handicap license plate or placard, altering a plate or placard, or using a counterfeit plate or placard is a "Class 2 misdemeanor," punishable by up to 6 months in jail, a fine of up to $1,000 or both. Also, a disabled person who lets a nondisabled person use his marked car or parking permit to park in handicap spaces can be fined up to $500 and have his handicap-parking privileges revoked.
Virginia law allows cars with handicap tags to park at metered spaces for up to 4 hours without paying. Even so, they are subject to the same parking-time limits as other cars. Thus, if a meter has a 2-hour limit, a disabled person may park there for only 2 hours, though she does not have to pay. If a meter has no limit, she can park free for 4 hours and must pay for any time beyond that.
Be warned that local jurisdictions are allowed to opt out of this provision and require that disabled people pay to park in metered spaces just like everyone else. Such jurisdiction must provide some sort of notice--such as signs or a sticker on each parking meter--that all drivers must pay to park.
Any Virginia law enforcement officer can cite vehicles for violating handicap-parking regulations. State law also allows local jurisdictions to empower civilian volunteers to write citations. Such volunteers are not allowed to write tickets for anything but handicap violations.