If you know the story about intending to drain the swamp only to find it full of alligators, then you might relate to my experience drafting this blog. I intended to describe my lay-up, no-brainer solution to a serious problem and was writing full speed ahead only to stop, pull my hands away from the keyboard and scratch my head.

My issue is people illegally parking or blocking any part of a marked handicapped spot. It happens far too often. Whatever we are doing now to enforce the rules isn’t good enough. I will admit to spending a good part of my driving life unconcerned with the extra-wide spaces marked with blue lines and the international wheelchair symbol. I knew not to park there, (wasn’t it on the written driving test?) but I also never scrutinized those that did. For some time now, thanks to my MS and my use of a rollator to walk any material distance, I use the conveniences wherever I can. When I can’t, I check the windshields of whomever beat me to the spot. Too often, I find no permit.

There is a broad list of legislation enforced by various government levels around the world concerning the handicapped. These laws deal with several important issues including things like automatic doors, bathrooms, ramps or elevators to avoid stairs, sloping curbs and the size and number of special parking spots. Society’s intent is clear. Within reason, people with a disability should enjoy facilitated access. That is fine until someone parks where they shouldn’t. I could spend a few pages ranting about why those people shouldn’t do that, but the fact is, folks break laws for their convenience all the time.

Those people, when caught and challenged to explain their digressions, make excuses ranging from, “I didn’t know it was a handicapped spot,” to “I was just going to be a minute,” to “I don’t care.” I believe in most countries, the official recommendation, should you spot an offender, is to call the police. This might be the correct action, and yes there is a big fine if caught, but if the police arrive, the offending vehicle might have left. Besides, the cops have better things to do. No one recommends confrontation. Sometimes, the accuser must eat crow after they learn that their suspect had and deserved a valid permit, but forgot to put in on the dashboard. (I’ve done it a few times.) In a worst-case example, you might know of the story last year where such a challenge resulted in the tragic death by gunshot of someone parked in a handicapped spot.

The response to the people who plead ignorance is, “Really? Those blue lines are hard to miss.” For those who promise to be quick, “The spirit of the law is complete, enhanced access all the time.” What happens is, I pull up to the handicapped spot, which is presently occupied (because you were unloading your truck or van or just running in for milk.) I can’t know how long you’ll be. As a result, I will go find another spot, often much farther away. The worst case I’ve seen is a dumpster strategically placed in a chosen spot so roofers could throw old material directly from the top of the building.

There’s no easy retort to the third group who feel no explanation is necessary. They don’t give a second thought to borrowing grandma’s car (with her permit) to go Christmas shopping (or maybe every Saturday morning) where space availability is always the worst. When (parking) times get tough, anything can happen. I watched a local news program interviewing an offender who said the ten to fifteen-minute wait she endured for a spot violated her rights and was such an inconvenience that the vacant handicapped space became fair game. It was empty. No one was using it.

In my dream, enforcement would be much more consistent and the penalties even tougher so you knew if you parked where you shouldn’t, a fine was on its way. Repeat offenders would lose their licenses for a bit. The good news is, technology can turn my dream into reality! Here’s my idea. What if every disabled parking sign that lords over the enhanced space contained a built-in, motion-activated video recorder? It seems easy. If you can fit a camera into your front doorbell, you can add it to a sign. Every time a vehicle pulled into a special space, the camera would record the license plate, the car itself and the permit if/when placed on the dash. Then, the digital recorder would document the person (not necessarily the driver) leaving the car, long enough to determine the likely level of disability. They would then collect these videos for analysis (the sign might have its own hard drive or WIFI capability,) and obvious offenders would receive a disturbing letter in the mail. I’m not letting we permit holders off the hook. If any of us did not display, or forgot to renew and presented an expired sticker, we’d get a fine too. If we will get serious about this, the rules must apply to everyone.

One obvious objection is, “That’s a lot of videos,” but data storage is now cheap. Who will pay for my new plan? If society deemed the cost of special parking spots beneficial in the first place, then to not always enforce the rules seems the same to me as closing the barn door after the horse escaped. I believe most handicapped permits are free. I’d pay a modest charge for sure. I suspect in the beginning, offenders and their fines would go a long way towards dealing with up-front expenses. There’s also a cost saving. I think the number of people required to run my plan would be a fraction of the resources employed today for this type of enforcement.

This is where I first realized my idea had flaws. My “cost saving” meant more jobs lost to technology. To be honest, I don’t know how many people are employed to monitor parking spots these days. I do know that coin-fed meters have gone the way of the rotary phone. The other day, a sign attached to where you pay for a parking receipt encouraged me to download an app to my cell phone so I could top-up my deposit (from wherever I was) if I was running out of time. My point is, technology is already a growing part of the car-parking world. I’m not sure my plan would speed up a trend well under way.

I thought about the technology required to confirm the impairment of the exiting passenger, but knew using artificial intelligence, training computers to distinguish between a stride and a limp is easy. In fact, since every driver’s license has a picture, and only car operators can have a special permit, facial recognition built into the software could immediately confirm the match. Using AI and facial recognition could ferret out those that secured a permit to carry them through something like a knee replacement, no longer needed it but “forgot” to send it back in for cancellation.

That’s when I stopped. My intent with this blog was to describe what I think solves an annoying situation. However, I realized my techno-answer isn’t for everyone. If implemented, it would represent yet another example of dwindling personal confidentiality. Some people would object to “too many cameras watching me,” or, “invasion of my privacy,” and that is a growing concern. For certain, what you do in your house or apartment is your business. But, for public venues, the answer isn’t so clear. At least three U.S. states have enacted laws prohibiting police from using facial recognition software in their body cameras. On the other hand, on a recent trip to London, I saw surveillance in action first-hand. Stand on any street corner and look up. Chances are, you are being filmed. If you want to fly through Gatwick Airport, the cameras run 24-7.

This loss of privacy is part of the price of my innovative solution. I guess the politicians guided by public opinion balance the cost vs. benefit of these situations. Red light cameras are often OK. Unrestrained facial recognition of innocent people is not. This entire discussion is far more serious than parking spots. But, back to my idea, if the threat of video surveillance increases the availability of handicap parking spots, then that’s a win. I could also argue the number of handicapped spots is a small part of the total anyway. If being on camera bothers you, park somewhere else.

Think it wouldn’t work? Did you see the news article the other day about the woman who keyed a beautiful new Tesla? They know who it was, because the car’s built in external security cameras caught her on tape. The technology for my idea is more than available.
We’d all prefer to live in a society where moral suasion would suffice, but those days are gone. For handicapped parking enforcement, it’s time for a change.