Parking in a Handicap Spot Without a Permit

Yes, it is illegal to park in a handicap spot without a permit. You could be ticketed or towed.
Written by Bonnie Stinson
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
Yes, it is illegal to park in a handicap parking spot without a permit. If you break the law, the consequences may include ticketing, towing, and fines.
More than 20 million disabled Americans experience travel-related challenges. Accommodations like handicap parking spots help make the world a more accessible place for these individuals. Parking in a handicap parking spot without a permit creates more unnecessary issues for them.
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We’ve created this guide to teach you everything you need to know about handicapped parking spots, including details about temporary permission, and rules for using the permit.
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How do handicap parking permits work?

A handicap parking permit is issued by the state to people who have mobility challenges. A disabled person can display their permit, giving them permission to park in handicap parking spots.
The intention of these permits is to help people with disabilities or other health concerns navigate public spaces safely. Everyone with a permit must prove that they have a condition that makes it challenging to walk or move long distances (such as in large parking lots.)
A permit is usually issued as a plastic tag that can be hung from a rearview mirror, although there are also handicap license plates. The permit will show the wheelchair symbol whether or not the owner uses a wheelchair, as it is the
International Symbol of Access
Handicap parking spots are typically located close to the entrance of a building. The spot is almost always marked by a blue and white sign mounted vertically as well as reflective traffic paint on the road surface.
A disabled parking spot may include extra space for a loading ramp or a curb cut for people who use a wheelchair or walker.
It is illegal to park in a handicap parking spot without a proper permit, even temporarily.

Who qualifies for a handicap parking permit?

There are many disabilities and health conditions that can qualify someone for a handicapped parking permit. The minimum criterion is that the person must have an impaired ability to walk more than 100 yards.
However, if you struggle to enter or exit a vehicle, or if you have limited nighttime vision, you may also qualify.
Here are some possible qualifying conditions for a handicap parking permit:
  • Arthritis
  • Advanced lung or cardiac disease
  • Vision issues (like low-vision and partial sightedness, especially at night)
  • Loss or serious impairment of both hands, or one or both legs
  • Inability to walk without an assistive mobility device (cane, crutch, wheelchair, or brace)
  • Other diseases that limit walking or ability to use legs
  • Other mobility or neurological impairments
Check with your doctor, even if your condition is not on this list. There are many health conditions that could justify a permit, such as carrying portable oxygen or recovering from surgery. Temporary permits are also possible for people who are not permanently disabled.
Key Takeaway To park in a handicapped parking spot, you must have a qualifying health condition and display your valid permit.

Yes, invisible disabilities qualify for the permit

Just because you can’t see someone’s disability does not mean that it’s fake!
Invisible disabilities are real, so think twice before you judge someone for parking in a handicapped spot if it doesn’t look like they have a disability.
Here are some invisible disabilities that could qualify someone for a handicap spot:
  • Back injuries
  • Heart and lung conditions
  • Brain injuries and tumors
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Seizure disorders
  • Organ transplants
  • Chronic pain
  • Chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia
  • Cancer treatment
  • Recent surgery
  • Hidden prosthetic limbs
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What is a temporary handicap parking permit?

A temporary permit will allow you to park in the same handicap parking spots as used by permanent permit-holders. The only difference is that temporary permits expire. They are usually valid for six months, or up to the date requested by your doctor.
People with a short-term health condition may qualify for a temporary handicap permit.
You may qualify if you are undergoing cancer treatments, recovering from surgery, or healing from an injury. Pregnant people can also qualify, especially if they are on modified bed rest.
If you struggle with mobility, it’s worth speaking with your doctor about whether or not you qualify.

How do you get a handicap parking permit?

The first step to qualifying for a handicap parking permit is to visit your doctor.
A physician will need to assess your condition to see if you qualify. If you do, the doctor will document your health condition and give you an official letter. When you have a doctor’s note, you can contact your state’s DMV to learn how to apply for a handicap parking permit.
In many states, you can complete the application process online, but it’s possible you may need to visit the office in person. To finish the process, you will need to submit your medical documentation and fill out some forms. There is usually a small fee to get the permit, although many states provide them for free.
This rigorous application process helps to protect disabled people and their right to access public spaces. Handicap parking spots are a federally protected accommodation and a very important measure to ensure that disabled people can participate fully in society.
Key Takeaway Invisible disabilities and temporary medical conditions could qualify you for a handicapped parking permit. Ask your doctor for more information.

Rules for using a handicap parking permit

The most important rule for using a handicap parking permit is that you cannot share the permit. However, you are allowed to use the permit whether you are the driver or the passenger in a vehicle.
Another important rule is that your permit must be visibly displayed when you park in a handicap spot. It’s not enough to keep it in the glovebox!
Finally, most handicap parking permits must be renewed every few years. If you have an ongoing disability, all you need to do is visit your doctor and get a new letter to submit to the DMV.
Breaking any of these rules can result in fines, cancellation of your permit, or other serious penalties. Forging a parking permit also carries serious consequences in every state. You could even be sentenced to months of jail time.

Using handicap permits out of state

Some states have their own unique requirements for disabled parking permits.
For one, you cannot transfer a permit between states. Placards are temporary (even for people who are permanently disabled and have permanent permits). In other words, permits can be moved from vehicle to vehicle. As a result, some states may not honor an out-of-state permit because they have no way to validate it.
A handicapped license plate is more likely to be honored out-of-state because it is permanently attached to the vehicle and is tied to the registration.
If you are planning to cross state lines, be sure to research the guidelines in your destination. For example, in California, you must apply for a temporary tag once you arrive. Call the DMV before you travel to make sure you know what to expect.
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Frequently asked questions

Is it illegal to park in a handicap spot?

Yes, it is illegal to park in a handicapped parking spot if you do not have a valid permit on display. There are two conditions that must be met for it to be legal. First, the permit holder must be in the vehicle (passenger or driver) and second, the tag must be visible. Police are not even allowed to park in disabled spots unless they are responding to an emergency or a crime.

What are the penalties for parking in a handicap spot?

Don’t do it! Parking in a handicap spot without permit can result in a fine between $200 and $1,000. Some cities will suspend your license for 30 days. Multiple offenses can result in a revoked license.
If you committed fraud to obtain a false handicap parking permit, you could be fined $5,000 and sentenced to a year in jail. This includes lying to a doctor to get a letter or falsifying documents. Taking a spot away from a disabled permit-holder is never okay.
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