California's Disabled Parking Rules

Blue handicapped parking symbol in car park
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Anyone with a qualifying disability gets special parking treatment in the state of California. To signal that a person qualifies, they are issued disabled person placards, disabled person plates or disabled person badges to use in their cars. The placards were once called "handicapped parking placards" but that is no longer the case.

There are rules and regulations in place to make sure that only those with true disabilities take advantage of the benefits of the disabled parking program and to ensure that other drivers follow the laws, too.

Disabled Placards Access in California

A disabled person qualifies for a disabled person placard, a disabled plate or a disabled travel badge if their mobility is impaired by a disability. California gives the medical professional who examines a person the final say in determining disabilities, but some conditions that qualify include:

  • Loss of use of one or more lower extremities.
  • Loss of use of both hands.
  • Specific, documented visual problems.
  • Inability to move without the aid of an assistive device.
  • Diagnosed disease that substantially impairs or interferes with mobility.

Many diseases and conditions can qualify, including heart issues, autoimmune diseases like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, severe arthritis, and a severe respiratory disease including any condition that requires the use of a portable oxygen tank. Other conditions that qualify include chronic inflammatory diseases, issues with vision or hearing, acute sunlight sensitivity, having a prosthetic limb or any condition that requires the use of a wheelchair, crutches or a Zimmer frame.

California’s Disabled Person Badge Program

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) administers the state’s disabled person badge program. A California resident with a permanent disability can get a permanent disabled person license plate or DMV placard to hang from the rear-view mirror of their car. The latter is appropriate when persons other than the disabled person drives the vehicle.

People who are disabled for a temporary injury or operation, or pregnant people, can get temporary placards to use for a finite period. The initial temporary placard is valid for six months, but can be renewed up to six times with a new doctor's certificate.

Travel placards are available for permanently disabled people who are traveling outside of their home state. These are valid for 30 days for traveling state residents, up to 90 days for a resident from another state who is traveling in California. Note that if disabled persons travel in California with disabled parking licenses from their own states without obtaining a travel placard from California, they are technically in violation of DMV regulations. However, law enforcement usually honors out-of-state disabled parking badges.

California Disabled Parking Privileges

Anyone with a disabled person parking placard, plate or badge is allowed to park in any any marked disabled parking space – the spaces marked with the international wheelchair symbol or with blue curbs. They can also park for an unlimited time in short-term spaces marked with a green curb.

These badges also allow parking in spaces designated for residents or merchants and at any metered space without paying. And the badge also triggers assistance at a service station. Attendants are required to fill a disabled person’s vehicle at self-service rates. The only exception is when only one employee is working at the service facility.

Note that a person with a disabled person placard does not have the right to park in the wheelchair access areas marked by stripes that is found beside disabled spaces. Nor can they use red, yellow or white curb spaces to park. Private spaces marked with a name or license plate number are also off-limits.

California Disabled Parking Badge Application

A person seeking a disabled parking badge, whether a placard or a license plate, must apply with the DMV and pay the fees when applicable. The first disabled plate and permanent placard are free. Temporary placards cost six dollars each.

The applicant must obtain and complete the Application for Disabled Person Placard or Plates. In most cases, they will also need to have the medical section of the application signed by a licensed physician, surgeon, chiropractor, optometrist, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, or certified nurse midwife that has knowledge of the disease or the disability. Note that a chiropractor can only certify to the disability of a person who has lost one or both legs or who has significant limitation in the use of their legs.

However, no medical certificate is required if a person has lost a leg or both hands and submits their application in person at a local DMV office in California. In addition, anyone who already has a Disabled Veteran license place or a permanent California disabled person placard can obtain disabled person license plates without additional medical certification. A disabled veteran with a 100 percent disability rating can apply for Disabled Veterans License Plates. These also exempt them from paying vehicle registration and license fees.

Anyone seeking a disabled person license plate must also prove that the vehicle is owned by, and registered to, them by providing appropriate documents. Finally, they must surrender the vehicle license plates before receiving the disabled person plates.

Renewing a DP Placard

It may be called a permanent disabled placard, but it doesn't last forever. In California, disabled placards are valid for only two years. The DMV automatically renews and sends out new permanent placards two times as they expire. On the third renewal date, the person has to apply again, but there is no requirement to obtain a medical certificate. When the person's address changes, they must send a Notice of Change of Address to the California DMV.

A temporary parking placard expires after six months. A person needs to submit a new application signed by a medical professional to get a new placard. This can be done up to six times.

Enforcement of DP License/Placard Restrictions

Under the California Vehicle Code, it is illegal to misuse a DP plate or placard and for a person without a DP badge to use a space reserved for a disabled person. Both violations are punishable by fines.

Only the disabled person who applies for a plate or a placard can use it for parking privileges. A person may be fined or given a citation if they let someone else use their placard, use someone else's placard, or fraudulently obtain a badge. It is fraud to forge a medical professional's signature on the application, provide false information to obtain a badge, change a placard, or possess or display a counterfeit placard or license plates.

When law enforcement discovers placard abuse, the placard can be cancelled and penalties apply under California Vehicle Code Sections 1825, 4461, 4463, 21458, 22511.5, 22511.6, 22511.7, 22511.55, 22511.59, and Business and Professions Code Section 13660. The fraud can be charged as an infraction, punishable by a fine up to $1,000, or a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in county jail and the same fine. In addition, the court may impose a $1,500 civil penalty.