With the holiday shopping season underway, finding parking at shopping centers can be harder than tracking down the hottest toy of the year. As a result, shoppers sometimes illegally park in accessible spaces reserved for people with disabilities.
Approximately 75,000 county residents have a disability, so it is critical that these parking spaces remain available to them. Over the past decade, our Police Department has issued approximately 5,000 tickets to drivers who have illegally occupied an accessible parking space.
You can park in a space for people with disabilities only if you have a placard or license plate issued by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.
Parking in an accessible parking space or in the striped access aisles next to the space, even for a couple of minutes, is illegal and can result in fines up to $500.
The striped aisles next to the accessible parking spaces enable older adults and people with disabilities who use canes, walkers, scooters or wheelchairs to safely get in and out of their vehicles.
- 96 percent of respondents said parking availability is important to leading an independent life
- More than half have decided not to make a trip because they had concerns about finding parking
To help solve the problem of illegally parking in accessible spaces, the Fairfax Area Commission on Aging and the Fairfax Area Disability Services Board have been exploring a unique approach called empathy parking. This involves placing empathy signs under the required ADA signs in accessible parking spaces, with the tagline “Think of Me, Park Legally.”
According to Commission on Aging member, Mike Perel, the goal is to dissuade drivers from illegally parking in accessible parking spots by motivating them through empathy instead of the fear of a fine.
Interest in this approach was stimulated by the success of a pilot program in a Denver suburb. After the signs were installed, citations were reduced substantially. The Fairfax Area Commission on Aging and Disability Services Board decided to do their own study and partnered with psychology students at George Mason University.
After placing empathy signs in a local shopping center, student observers found that empathy signs decreased outright violations (where someone parked in the spot without a placard or tag) and increased hesitations (where someone pulled in, presumably read the sign and backed out).
According to Perel, the local research will be expanded in 2019.
For more information on the initiative, listen to the podcast below with Perel and Helen Sullivan, communication counsel for the International Parking and Mobility Institute.
Reporting violations enables police to target specific areas for enforcement. Police or parking enforcement officers also could issue a parking violation ticket on the spot.
To report parking violations, call the local police non-emergency number in the jurisdiction where the violation occurs. When calling, have a description of the vehicle (make, model and color), license plate number, location, date and time.
- Fairfax County: 703-691-2131; TTY 703-877-3715
- City of Fairfax: 703-385-7960; TTY 703-359-2480
- City of Falls Church: 703-241-5053
- Herndon Police Department: 703-435-6846
- Vienna Police Department: 703-255-6366
To report the use of expired placards or the suspected misuse or alteration of placards or plates, call the Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles at 877-937-6372, TTY 711.
Businesses must abide by certain requirements to ensure adequate accessible parking spaces are available.
- Accessible parking spaces reserved for people with disabilities are required for parking lots with 10 or more spaces.
- Accessible parking must be provided in all parking areas open to the public, and must be located on the shortest accessible route from the parking area to the facility entrance.
- In parking garages serving multiple facilities or entrances, such as a mall, accessible parking spaces must be dispersed and located closest to an accessible entrance.
- Accessible parking spaces must be at least 96 inches wide and identified by an above-grade sign displaying the International Symbol of Access and the words “DMV PERMIT REQUIRED, PENALTY $100-$500 FINE TOW-AWAY ZONE.”