While the NSW government has been getting rid of speed cameras that aren’t preventing crashes, penalties for parking in disabled zones may get tougher, with the introduction of demerit points on the table.
NSW Roads Minister Duncan Gay called the behaviour of those stealing disabled parks as “sick”, and labelled those who do it “low-lifes”.
The offence already comes with a heavy fine – currently $519.
But penalties are even heavier in some other countries.
In the UK and San Francisco for example, fines for illegally parking in disabled parking spots tip over the thousand dollar mark.
But for those with genuine disabilities who struggle to find parking, the current measures may not be enough.
Several MPs have come out and agreed with Mr Gay, stating that increasing numbers of people are engaging in the conduct.
One driver who was embarrassingly caught out was a councillor herself – Karola Brent who parked her luxury 4WD in a disabled parking spot in Lane Cove.
When confronted by the media as to whether or not she saw the issue of illegally parking in disabled parking spaces as an issue, Ms Brent said she didn’t believe it was one.
She was then shown a photograph of herself getting out of her car right in front of a disabled parking sign.
Ms Brent acknowledged her wrongdoing, although stating that she only parked for a minute after realising that she had left her wallet in a local business.
She now supports new measures that would harshly punish those who illegally use disabled spots, and voted in favour of the increased penalties.
Concerns about people misusing the system have been around for years.
The NSW system one of the most generous mobility parking schemes in the country, allowing those with permits to park indefinitely for free.
Advocacy groups for those with disabilities have been calling for harsher penalties since at least back in 2012, after receiving numerous complaints about parking spots being taken up by able-bodied drivers.
While only vehicles displaying a valid permit are allowed to park in disabled spots, there are concerns that many are fraudulently using permits of their disabled friends or relatives to get a more convenient park.
The law defines a qualifying disability as:
- Being unable to walk due to temporary or permanent loss of use of one or both less or another medical reason (which includes being permanently blind);
- A physical condition that is detrimentally affected as a result of walking 100 metres, or
- A condition that requires the use of crutches, a wheelchair or another device.
Nationally, 800,000 people hold disability parking permits, which come to approximately 3.5% of the population.
The number has dramatically increased in recent years, leading to calls for a more stringent test to be put in place for applicants.
Currently there are three types of permits issued:
- Permits valid for five years, for eligible people with permanent disabilities;
- Permits valid for six moths, for eligible people with temporary disabilities; and
- Permits for organisations that provide transport to people with disabilities
The government currently makes millions of dollars per year in revenue through the enforcement of the existing system, with about 16,000 fines a year being issued for illegally parking in a disabled spot.
But adding demerit points to a parking offence could mean that not only do you have to fork out the $519 fine but could end up being suspended from driving, which one newspaper called a welcomed “tax on the selfish.”
The vast majority of parking offences are fine-only offences.
If the proposal does become law, it will be one of only a very small handful of parking offences which carry demerit points in NSW.
What do you think: are harsher penalties the way to go, or is the current punishment tough enough?