Dubuque man fed up with disability parking fraud - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Dubuque man fed up with disability parking fraud

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Improper use of disability parking spaces is a problem statewide and has one Dubuque man speaking up.

When a motorcycle accident paralyzed Dale Steuer four years ago, he started seeing parking spaces for people with disabilities through new eyes.

"Before my accident, I never thought about them," Steuer said. "Now that you gotta use them, it's tough."

Dale Steuer is quadriplegic and uses a wheelchair. He and his brother Ken Steuer run errands together once or twice a week in Dale's handicap-accessible van and say they're used to seeing people parked in disability-accessible parking spots in vehicles that have no disability plates or hanging window placard.

"We had a guy out at one of the local stores, he's in a parking stall. Nothing, no sticker, no license plate, and I said to him, 'Hey, you're in a handicap [spot].' He said, 'Well, I'm just waiting for my wife. She's in the store and this is a good spot,'" Ken Steuer recalled.

"I said, 'You can't park there.' And, you know, he started cussing at me," Steuer said.

"People are taking up the handicap stalls and, you know, they don't have a sticker, they don't have nothing," Dale Steuer agreed, "but it was a nice place so that they could pull in, do their shopping real quick and get out."

He said able-bodied people who park, even briefly, in spots intended for people with disabilities may force a person in a wheelchair or with a heart condition, for example, to walk farther to the business. Steuer said he has seen that happen.

The brothers also say some drivers use disability window placards that probably don't belong to them, though the Steuers admit some disabilities aren't obvious, like heart and breathing problems.

Tina Hargis is director of the Iowa Department of Transportation's office of motor vehicle services. She said the Iowa DOT doesn't put expiration dates on the hanging disability parking window placards it distributes.

She admits this can lead to disability parking fraud if somebody uses a window placard that doesn't belong to them, such as one belonging to an elderly relative with a disability, even after that relative has died. Since the window placards don't need to be renewed, there are many of them floating around after the person it's intended for either dies or doesn't need it anymore.

Iowa code says a disability parking permit must be returned to an Iowa Driver License Examining Station or the Iowa DOT office in Des Moines within 10 days if the person for whom the permit was issued dies or moves out of state.

As of January 2014, the Iowa DOT had 525,374 window placards valid and distributed throughout the state. Compare that number to the 51,697 license plates for people with disabilities.

In 2013, the Iowa DOT issued 43,127 permanent PWD (persons with disabilities) placards, 25,630 temporary PWD placards and 1,543 organizational placards, which would go, for example, on a van belonging to a nursing home or other skilled care facility.

Iowa law cautions the window placard must only be hung from the rearview mirror while the car is "parked in a persons with disabilities parking space or in a parking space not designated as a persons with disabilities parking space if a wheelchair parking cone is used pursuant to Iowa Code Section 321L.2A."

State law says police and parking enforcement officers can ticket people in both public and private lots for improperly parking in a spot for people with disabilities.

According to Dubuque's Parking Division, the city issued 499 tickets for the offense in 2009, 542 in 2010, 720 in 2011, 650 in 2012, 704 in 2013 and 386 so far in 2014.

Parking division manager Tim Horsfield said able-bodied drivers parking illegally in spots for people with disabilities is a big and consistent problem.

Dale Steuer said he'd like to see a renewal requirement for window placards. He said one option for easier enforcement might include changing the color of the placard every year, just like a car's registration sticker.

Indeed, Hargis said, legislation proposed several years ago in Iowa tried to initiate expiration dates and renewal periods for disability window placards in order to prevent fraud. Opponents, Hargis said, argued people with permanent disabilities should not have to keep renewing their disability parking.

The legislation did not pass that year.

Steuer said he'd like to see the Iowa legislature take up the matter again.

More on Iowa's application for disability parking and the state code pertaining to the matter is HERE: https://forms.iowadot.gov/FormsMgt/External/411055.pdf

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