Can you still get a ticket if you don’t see a handicap parking sign?

| May 10, 2013 | 9 Comments
broken disabled parking sign

This sign is damaged, but it’s probably enforceable. Photo by Amboo Who, on Flickr.

We frequently get great questions from readers about their parking woes, particularly when it comes to disabled parking regulations. Often, a thornier question will send us into wormholes of research into the various federal, state and municipal rules that govern the road – and if you think finding a parking space is hard, finding the rules about that parking space can be even more of a challenge!

Recently, Lonnie posted this plea for help in our perennially popular post about ADA regulations and handicap parking signs:

“I got a ticket for parking in handicap parking on street (the rear of my vehicle was 4ft into the handicap space) in City of San Diego. The space was 20 ft, but the sign was 11 ft back from the start/front of space. This was not a deliberate violation as I backed into this open space but could see the sign way behind me & there was car parked in the space. I have driven the streets around this area and all the other signs are at or before the start of the parking space. This ticket is $452.5o. I’ve never had a parking ticket before! How do I get this resolved?? I can’t find anything as to where signs are to be placed??”

This caught our interest, since California has an excellent track record for e-government (the electronic access to government documents), and we knew it might be possible to find an answer either in the San Diego municipal code, or the California Vehicle Code, or both. And Lonnie’s problem is a common one, where signage is missing or damaged but the city enforces the rules all the same.

Let’s start with the good news. We found the section of the California Vehicle Code that deals with on-street disabled parking. In Division 11 (“Rules of the Road”), Chapter 9 deals with Stopping, Standing, and  Parking, and Section 22511.7 deals specifically with “Parking for the Disabled.” From here, we may have found some good news for Lonnie about how on-street disabled parking spaces must be marked:

(b) (1) Whenever a local authority so designates a parking space, it shall be indicated by blue paint on the curb or edge of the paved portion of the street adjacent to the space. In addition the local authority shall post immediately adjacent to and visible from the space a sign consisting of a profile view of a wheelchair with occupant in white on a blue background.

California Handicap Parking Sign

California requires “adequate and visible” signage. [Via MyParkingSign]

This section is helpful for two reasons. First, it’s generally addressing how local authorities (municipalities) should be handling on-street parking access for people with disabilities. Second, it’s very specifically noting that disabled parking spaces should be marked with both blue curbs and signage. Now, although we don’t know for sure from Lonnie’s comment whether the curb was painted, but if it wasn’t, it certainly should have been, so this is useful information for her.

The California code also calls for the handicap parking sign to be “immediately adjacent to and visible from the space”, which is another interesting point in contrast to Lonnie’s story. She tells us that the sign was at least 11 feet “back” from the start of the parking space, which we can assume means that the sign itself, designating the disabled spot, was actually closer to the back of the car than the traditional placement at the front. But the California code doesn’t specify that it be at the “front” of the space – just that it be visible and adjacent to the space. So now we turned to the City of San Diego, with slightly less success.

We should commend San Diego, first, for having a whole section of their city website dedicated to parking (even if it’s really just a way to conveniently collect those hefty parking fines). In the city’s Municipal Code, Article 6 of Chapter 8 deals entirely with parking regulations, but we didn’t find a specific reference to the required location of the sign. For instance, Section 86.06, which designates which types of on-street parking zones are restrictive (including disabled persons parking zones) says:

Such zones shall be effective when appropriate signs or curb markings giving notice thereof are erected upon such zones.

Appropriate signs or curb markings is helpful (and adheres to the state Vehicle Code at least generally) but unfortunately, it doesn’t tell us exactly where along the curb the handicap parking sign should be placed! And in Lonnie’s case, the curb marking may well have helped her identify the boundaries of the restricted space even if the handicap parking sign wasn’t placed in a way that was readily apparent to her – a frustration we can all sympathize with.

Lonnie’s not the only one fruitlessly looking for a sign, either. It’s not just disabled parking spots that aren’t clearly marked, and thus honey traps for ticket enforcement. It happens with time-restricted signage, as well. There are stories all across the country about signs that are missing, damaged, and people get tickets regardless. In fact, city enforcement agencies often reply with a shrug at this chasm between common sense and reality – how are you supposed to know that there’s a parking restriction without the sign? Well, the parking enforcement officers know the rules, even if you don’t, as one officer demonstrated to a frustrated resident of Chicago by saying that he had “reported the missing sign to the city, but kept on writing tickets.”

And here in New York, one of the busiest cities in America, we checked out the language that governs how signage is meant to be displayed to residents. Well, says the Big Apple, if you park on a street, you’d better check that entire street for evidence of the parking rules in effect:

If there is more than one sign posted for the same area, the more restrictive one is the one in effect. If a sign is missing on a block, the remaining posted regulations are the ones that are in effect. Please check the entire block and read all signs carefully before you park.

Yikes! No wonder so many New Yorkers eschew car ownership. Checking the entire block for parking signage could take so long, you might as well take the subway.

Lonnie shouldn’t give up hope, however. There are always ways to contest her ticket, and people to contact in the city government in order to get more clarity about the rules. In fact, she can even report damaged or missing signage to the city. And remember, when you get that dreaded orange ticket on your dashboard, and you’re indignant about misleading or confusing regulations, it’s always a good idea to take pictures of the situation as evidence for a contested ticket appeal. It won’t always work (you can’t fight city hall, right?) but for a $450 ticket, it might be worth a shot.

Category: Regulations

Comments (9)

  1. Beatriz says:

    Hello I recently received a ticket for parking on a handicapped space on the side of the street in Texas (Travis County), I did not see the handicapped sign since I also happend to park on the opposite direction so the sign was faces the other way & they’re was a pole blocking the sign, also the pavement was not stencil..Does Austin Texad require the pavement to have painted ???

  2. Krissa says:

    Hey, Beatriz —

    Unfortunately, stenciling is suggested but not required by the Texas Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (TMUTCD) — pavement stencils can be a supplemental option to the required signage:

    “Parking spaces signed as handicapped parking spaces may be supplemented with pavement markings where there is a suitable pavement surface.”
    [from page 94 of Section 2B, Regulatory Signage]

  3. jack says:

    I LIVE IN SPOKANE WASHINGTON. I RECEIVED A TICKET THE OTHER DAY FOR PARKING IN A HANDICAP PARKING SPACE. I ASKED THE PERSON WRITING THE TICKET WHY I WAS RECEIVING A TICKET, SHE TOLD ME I WAS PARKED IN A HANDICAP PARKING SPACE. I ASKED, WHERE IS IT POSTED STATING IT A HANDICAP PARKING SPACE. SHE POINTED UP ON THIS BUILDING WHERE THIS SIGN WAS POSTED. THIS SIGN WAS HIGHER THEN EIGHT FEET ABOVE THE PARKING SPACE. AND WHATS EVEN BETTER, THERES A PAY AIR STATION RIGHT IN FRONT OF THIS PARKING SPACE, TO WHERE IF SOMEONE NEEDED AIR IN THEIR TIRE WOULD HAVE TO PARK THERE TO GET AIR. ARE THEY IN VIOLATION FOR POSTING A SIGN SO HIGH, AND PLACING A AIR STATION THERE.

  4. Conrad Lumm says:

    Hi, Jack- In Washington, signs are required to be between three and five feet off the ground. I would definitely contest the ticket – if it’s eight feet off the ground, it’s not in compliance and you can’t be held responsible for not seeing it. Check out this document, section 1107.3 (the same standards should apply in Spokane as in Seattle). Hope that helps!

  5. Darrell says:

    Why am I reading on all A. D. A. Sites that the signs are to be between 60 to 80 inches?
    I’m in Ohio.
    Am I right or wrong about the height of the sign here in Ohio??

  6. Darrell says:

    Also, if the sign says its a $250 fine and nothing about towing immediately ; Is it legal to tow my car without first putting a ticket on the car?
    The disabled sign is only 37 inches tall here in Ohio.
    Can anyone help me get my questions answered?

  7. Conrad Lumm says:

    Hi, Darrell! Sorry about your mishap. Looking at Ohio code, it looks as though signage marking accessible parking spots have to be at least five feet off the ground (take a look at 4511.69(E) here).

    I would definitely take a photo of the spot you got ticketed for parking in. Then, attend your hearing, contest the ticket, and point this regulation out to the judge – you should get off without a fine.

    It is legal to tow without ticketing, but if the parking space isn’t in compliance with Ohio law (and it sounds like it’s not), then although I don’t know all the circumstances and am not a lawyer, you shouldn’t be towed either. Since the parking space wasn’t compliant, you should also request reimbursement for any towing fees and so on as well.

  8. yvette says:

    If you let your teenage son borrow car and they park in a handicap parking space. Am I liable.

  9. Debbie Moore says:

    Hi, Yvette! Sorry your son made the wrong decision. To answer your question, the police ticket cars and not people, and the car’s owner ends up liable, so the answer is yes.

    Sounds like a stern conversation might be in order! Good luck.

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