January 11, 2002

State Representative Deborah Hudson is working on a complete overhaul of the state law which provides parking accommodates for people with physical handicaps. "The [present] law is archaic and not sufficient to meet the needs of these citizens," she said.

That was made obvious as a panel of public officials organized by County Councilman Robert Weiner discussed the issue at a meeting of the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred on Jan. 10.

Hudson summed up the likely reason for that. "I don't think people take it (the law) seriously," she said.

Not only is it routinely violated -- both by drivers who usurp spaces designated for handicapped and those who misuse credentials permitting use of those spaces -- but enforcement is at best a sometimes thing.

As Delaforum previously reported, state police ticketed, statewide and mostly in shopping centers, 526 vehicles through the first 11 months of 2001. Of those, 260, or just under half, have resulted so far in fines being levied. Most of those were simply mailed in by people who chose not to contest the citations. The largest number of the remainder, 123 are listed as pending, which in many cases means they were simply ignored.

Because the present state law is very specific on how each individual space must be marked, it is relatively easy to contest tickets. But Lt. Robert Schleifer, traffic officer are the Penny Hill troop, said the practice is not to bother tagging cars in such spots.

A more pressing problem, he said, is the dwindling number of state police cadets who issue the tags. They are youths, ages 18 to 21, most of whom have some interest in eventually going into police work but who are not actually in training. The program got off to a good start a few years but hasn't been able to maintain momentum, he said.

"Our ability to enforce is limited," said Sgt. Keith Sparks of the New Castle County force, which has jurisdiction over violations mostly in apartment complexes. As a non-emergency situation, parking law enforcement ranks fifth in five levels of priority, he said.

Chief magistrate Patricia Griffin said justices of the peace impose fines in cases where the spaces are marked property but "if the requirements are not met, the case will be dismissed." In response to a question from the audience, she said the lower courts could be empowered to impose civil penalties on the basis of photographic evidence of violations.

Hudson said the 11-page bill she intends to introduce into the General Assembly also will deal with the use of special handicapped license plates and dangling tags which identify vehicles eligible to use handicapped parking spaces. The advocacy groups with which she has been working are anxious to curb misuse of the credentials.

"They're very tempting for other people to use," she said.

The situation is only somewhat better when it comes do dealing with violations of fire lanes, the civic meeting was told. Michael Chionchio, of the state fire marshal's office, said an effort is now underway to assure that lanes are properly marked. According to fire regulations, they must be marked by yellow lines and identified by permanent signs.

Priority is being given to surveying the lanes around schools, but shopping centers are also being checked. "In places, we've found million dollar shopping centers that put up only cardboard signs," he reported.

2002. All rights reserved.

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