The Americans with Disabilities Act, a federal civil rights law, protects the rights of people with disabilities, including the right to accessible public parking. However, ADA doesn't require cities to provide free parking at metered spaces. The law relating to meter parking rules varies by location.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Handicap parking rules for metered spaces vary by state. Some states, like California and Washington, D.C., allow drivers with a disability plate or placard to park at a metered space without paying, but others don't.
Definition of Disability
The term disability is defined by the federal government in various ways, depending on the context. For the purposes of federal disability nondiscrimination laws, such as the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, a person with a disability is typically someone who has a physical or mental impairment that considerably restricts their life in at least one significant way.
Disability Plates and Placards
In most states, you must have your disability verified by a medical professional in order to get a disability parking license plate or a placard to hang from the rearview mirror. The medical professional will also state whether the plate or placard should be temporary or permanent. Some of the medical conditions that may qualify you for a disability parking plate or placard include the loss of use of legs or hands; the inability to walk two blocks without resting; heart, lung, or circulatory disease; and mental health problems. The plate or placard allows you to use designated disabled parking places and has several other parking benefits, such as parking for free at metered spaces if that is allowed in your jurisdiction.
Parking at Metered Spaces
Check the rules of your state and local government before using a handicap plate or placard to park without paying at a metered space. Many states, such as California and Washington, D.C., allow you to park for free at a metered space, but others, like New Jersey, prohibit any driver from parking at a metered space without depositing a coin. Some cities enforce laws to require all drivers to pay the meter, even if they have a disability. For example, the city of Hagerstown, Maryland, enforces a law that requires drivers with disability tags to pay the meter. As all public parking meters in Hagerstown meet ADA requirements, drivers with disability plates or placards are required to pay the meter under state law.
- U.S. Department of Justice: ADA Update: A Primer for State and Local Governments
- DMV.org: Disability Plates and Placards in California
- Local DVM.com: Disabled Drivers Now Required to Pay Parking Meter
- DC.gov: Red Top Meter Program Frequently Asked Questions
- New Jersey Guide to Accessible Parking
- ADA National Network: Accessible Parking