Some people mistakenly believe that a handicap placard grants them unlimited parking privileges or that anyone in the vehicle can use it. However, the placard is intended solely for the person with a disability, and its use is restricted to specific parking spaces.
California Vehicle Code 4461 VC outlines the regulations and penalties associated with the misuse of handicapped parking placards. The law aims to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities and ensure they have access to designated parking spaces.
Simply put, VC 4461 VC makes it a crime to misuse a handicapped disability parking placard or license plate, also called handicapped parking fraud.
You could violate this statute if you lend a valid disability placard to someone not authorized to use it, knowingly allow someone ineligible to use it, use the placard that was issued to another person, use one that was canceled or revoked, or drive someone's car and park it in a reserved handicap parking spot.
VC 4461(a) says, “A person shall not lend a certificate of ownership, registration card, license plate, special plate, validation tab, or permit issued to him or her if the person desiring to borrow it would not be entitled to its use, and a person shall not knowingly permit its use by one not entitled to it.”
If you are cited for violating this law, you could face a fine of up to $1000; sometimes, you may even be jailed. Let's review this state law further below.
Understanding Handicap Placard Misuse
A person can violate VC 4461 in one of three ways:
- Lending your handicap placard to someone else. Allowing another person to use your placard, even with a disability, is prohibited.
- Displaying a handicap placard that was not issued to you. This includes using a placard issued to a family member, friend, or another person.
- Using an expired, revoked, or counterfeit placard. Displaying a placard that is no longer valid or has been revoked by the issuing authority is illegal.
- Wrongly parking in a designated handicapped space. This refers to parking in a handicapped spot with a car bearing disability license plates not issued to you.
Other things to know about this law:
- For purposes of the law, VC 4461 applies to handicap placards and special issue disability license plates.
- For purposes of this law, "handicap person placard" refers to a state-issued placard bearing the universal "wheelchair symbol."
- Vehicle Code 4461(c) prohibits displaying the placard if it was issued to another person unless you are transporting them or if it was canceled or revoked.
- You don't have to be parked in a disabled spot to violate this law; just displaying the placard is enough for a conviction.
- Vehicle Code 4461(d) makes it unlawful to park in a handicapped spot if the vehicle has disabled license plates issued to someone else.
An exception to the rule
VC 4461 makes an exception for drivers using handicapped person placards or plates to transport a disabled person. In other words, you may use someone else's handicap placard ONLY IF you are transporting that person.
What Are Some Examples?
EXAMPLE 1: Jeri is driving to the store to pick up groceries for Terri, who is disabled. Terri gives Jeri her handicap placard to get a good parking space. Even if Jeri doesn't park in a handicapped spot, both Jeri and Terri could be cited for violating VC 4461 if Jeri displays the placard in her car—Jeri for displaying the placard, and Terri, for lending it to her.
EXAMPLE 2: John borrows Jan's car, which displays handicap plates. John takes advantage of the disability plates and parks in a handicapped spot. John can be cited under VC 4461 for wrongly parking in a handicapped spot since he is not handicapped.
EXAMPLE 3: June's disability is flaring up, making driving difficult. She asks her friend Harold to drive her to the doctor in her car, which displays the handicap person's placard. Harold parks in a handicapped spot at the doctor's office. Harold qualifies for an exception to VC 4461 because he used June's placard to transport her.
What Are the Penalties for VC 4461?
VC 4461 is a "wobblette" offense, which means it can be charged as an infraction or a misdemeanor, depending on the facts of the case and other circumstances.
If it's charged as an infraction, you could face only civil penalties in the form of a fine (no points on your DMV record). If a misdemeanor, you face criminal charges.
- For an infraction: the fine is between $250 and $1000.
- For a misdemeanor conviction: you could face up to 6 months in county jail, a fine between $250 and $1000, and summary probation.
In either case, for infractions or misdemeanors, you could face an additional fine of up to $1500. The judge often imposes this fine if you misuse a placard or plate to park in a handicapped spot. If you don't pay the fine, you can be charged with failing to appear or paying for a traffic citation.
Defending Against VC 4461 Violations
If you have been cited or criminally charged with a VC 4461 violation, strategies are available to defend against the charges. For example, a California criminal lawyer could use any of the common defenses discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue there was a lack of intent. You are only guilty of violating this law if you willfully allowed your handicap placard or plates to be used wrongfully or if you deliberately misused them yourself. If you can show otherwise, you may be able to get the charge/citation dismissed.
Perhaps we can argue that there was a lack of knowledge. For example, you could beat the violation if you were unaware that the placard was expired or revoked.
Perhaps we can argue that you qualified for an exception. In other words, you were lawfully using the placard to transport the person to whom it had been issued. You can contact us for a case review by phone or through the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, CA.