It is a constant irritation for Leslye Kasoff.
Driving with her 84-year-old mother, the Sherman Oaks resident often finds herself driving in circles waiting for a disabled parking space to open so her ailing mother will not have to walk far.
"First off, there are not that many disabled spaces, and at some places, they're always filled up," Kasoff said. "Recently, I was at a diner, and we saw a car pull into the disabled spot and two perfectly able-bodied people get out. Not five minutes later, another car pulled up and had to stop to let out an elderly person and then go look for a space. It's very aggravating."
Kasoff is not alone in her frustration, as the number of calls to the Department of Motor Vehicles about the misuse of disabled placards has been rising. On Wednesday, the DMV mounted a one-day sting operation, issuing 241 citations statewide for improper use of disabled permits or illegal parking in handicapped spaces.
"We went to locations where we have received the most public complaints and confronted drivers who were using the placards," DMV spokesman Artemio Armenta said Thursday.
"We want to get the message out that these placards are to assist the truly disabled."
Investigators hit malls, big-box stores, business districts, colleges and other in-demand areas. The citations are considered misdemeanors and carry fines ranging from $250 to $1,000 for first offenses and up to $3,500 for subsequent offenses.
"Fraudulent use of disabled placards is a disservice to legitimate placard owners who really need the parking privilege," said DMV Chief Deputy Director Jean Shiomoto. "The DMV will confiscate a placard of a legitimate owner if it's being used by others."
The state has more than 2.1 million handicapped permits in circulation, for which a doctor's authorization is required. It is against the law to borrow one, manually change the expiration date, replicate in any way or provide false information to obtain a placard.
Armenta said investigators heard a slew of excuses, from some drivers insisting it was permissible to use someone else's to others saying they didn't feel well that day and thought they qualified.
"We saw one instance where a car with three young men pulled into a disabled spot, and when we went to talk to (the driver), he became visibly upset," Armenta said. "He wasn't able to prove he had a right to have the placard, so we cited him and pulled the placard."
Many with legitimate permits thanked the investigators. "A lot of them get frustrated when they see all the disabled parking spots taken by healthy people," he said, acknowledging that it can be difficult to tell if people are disabled because many unseen illnesses qualify.
In the DMV's San Fernando Valley region, which includes Lincoln Park and Ventura, 34 citations were issued. In Los Angeles Metro, there were 43 citations. The Pacific region of Artesia, South Bay and Culver City rang up 18 tickets, with 14 given in Riverside and San Bernardino.
Officials estimate there are upwards of 2.5 million disabled permits in circulation in California, and there is no way to determine how many are fraudulently used.
The placards allow people to park for free, usually close to a given location, with no limits on how long they can remain in one space. ___