Abuse of disabled parking bays provokes reaction on British roads
Disabled Motoring’s ‘bay-watch’ survey exposed the parking behaviour of supermarket customers
Applicants now may be interviewed to check their suitability for disability badges, while higher-quality, harder-to-forge badges are now issued centrally, not locally. Photograph: Getty
British motorists can be a grumpy lot. Some complaints are justified, some are not. On a long list, the abuse of disabled parking bays in supermarkets frequently ranks high.
Ten years ago, Disabled Motoring UK began its baywatch survey. Back then, not a single supermarket monitored how motorists behaved in their car parks. But since then Asda, Sainsburys and Tesco have fined offenders who park in bays without the much-coveted disabled “blue badge” on their windscreen, or who use a disabled parking spot when they are not entitled to it.
However, abuse continues. Tesco customers have the worst record: more than a third of its disabled places were improperly used in 2012. Morrisons’ customers did best, with just a tenth of the spaces wrongly used.
Up to 2012, applicants could get a blue badge on the word of their doctor. The badges are valuable: free parking on the street – with no time limits in some places, along with the use of designated bays near the entrance to shops, bus and railway stations.
Abuse was common. The badge could easily be forged. A relative, for instance, might display it for their own use, or continue to use it after a disabled relative had died.
So the rules were changed. Applicants now may be interviewed to check their suitability. Higher-quality, harder-to-forge badges are now issued centrally, not locally. “In the past, a GP used to tick a box saying that you needed a badge. Now, you may be called for an assessment,” says Helen Dolphin of Disabled Motoring.
The changes have complicated matters, particularly for those who are late applying for renewals of their three-year permits. “Now it can take six weeks and we have been hearing of 10, 12 weeks in some local authorities,” she said.
Although the new badges are tamper-proof, relatives can still borrow them. However, the £1,000 fine may be a deterrent.
There have been tragic consequences related to the issue. Last August, Alan Watts lost his temper when he saw Brian Holmes using a disabled bay in Bedfordshire. From his Range Rover, Watts shouted, “You look like you need a wheelchair”. A dispute followed and resulted in Watts hitting Holmes in the head and then leaving.
Holmes (64), who had just been given the all-clear from cancer, collapsed, and died the next day. He had been entitled to use the bay because his wife, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, was inside the shop.
Today Watts, a 65-year-old pensioner who the judge said had been guilty of “an extraordinary show of violence”, is beginning a five-year sentence.
In Leeds, 95 people have been prosecuted for parking abuses by the city council since May 2012. Before then, 700 warning letters had been sent to offenders.
But tougher rules can also cause problems. The Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, north London, toughened its stance and disabled patients now have to go to the hospital’s reception and register before parking, rather than simply displaying the badge.
Disabled couple John and Irene Slatter told a local newspaper they have been fined four times – though all were overturned on appeal. “It’s a nightmare because I’m on crutches. Walking to reception on each visit . . . It just makes life harder,” said Mrs Slatter. In its defence, the hospital said changes had to happen, since some cars were being left in disabled bays “for even up to a week”.
Offenders offer imaginative defences. This week, a Portsmouth woman justified her use of her dead grandfather’s pass last June by saying she had some of his possessions in the glove box.
In another case, before Christmas Renata Blower went to the Cinderella pantomime in St Alban’s in Hertfordshire with her disabled son, Dominic, and daughter, Lilia. The trio returned to their car a few minutes over the three-hours permitted parking time only to find a traffic warden writing out a ticket.
Blower explained that she was late because she had to wait until everyone left the theatre before she could get her son out. Dominic, who uses a wheelchair and has to be tube-fed, spent the last three months of 2013 in Great Ormond Street Hospital and had wanted desperately to get to the pantomime.
Panto actors, gathered outside the stage-door, witnessed the ticketing and voiced outrage on Twitter. This led to Hertfordshire County Council cancelling the ticket.
Bob Golding, who plays Buttons in the show, said: “Renata should be able to park wherever she wants as long as she is not blocking the road. As far as I am concerned they [traffic wardens] are the real panto baddies and I will continue to boo them.”