Topic: Society

More Parking Space Ethics

In December of 2005, the Associated Press reported that a Union, S.C. man received a $325 ticket for using a handicapped parking space in front of a grocery store without a handicapped sticker, and when he couldn’t pay the fine, Magistrate Jeff Bailey made him stand out side the store with a sign that read “I am not handicapped. I just parked there, sorry.” I thought about this recently when I went to my grocery store and found that the only spaces available were handicapped-reserved spacesÂ…about ten of them. My ever-observant son pointed out something I had never noticed or thought about before: there were quite a few vehicles with handicapped stickers parking in the regular spaces.

Now, fair is fair. If it is inconsiderate (as well as illegal) for a fully mobile driver to use a handicapped space, what is the proper adjective for a handicapped driver who uses up the last regular parking space when handicapped spaces are available? When one has a reserved space at a public garage, it is obviously unfair to use one of the unreserved spaces, in essence taking up two spaces for one car. I see no reason why this doesn’t apply to reserved handicapped parking as well.

There are some complications to this equation, perhaps. A fairly mobile individual with a handicapped sticker might reason that he or she is feeling nimble on a particular day and decide to leave the handicapped spots for those who need it more. I am sorely tempted to counter that argument with the observation that if a driver’s disability is that ephemeral, then he shouldn’t have a sticker at all. My feet hurt sometimes; I have a bad hip that occasionally makes walking uncomfortable. Do I deserve a sticker for those less-mobile days? While we’re discussing “less-mobile,” I am completely unmoved by the plight of the driver who can pick and choose whether he’s handicapped on a day to day, errand to errand basis. Let him fight for regular parking with the rest of us.

There are unsolvable problems with trying to ticket handicapped vehicles parked in regular spaces, and not just political ones, though those would be enough to prevent it on their own. It would be impossible to know whether the driver was doing the right thing or not. Maybe when the car was parked, there were no handicapped spaces available; it certainly is fair to use a regular space then. Maybe the driver of the vehicle is a fully-able spouse or friend of the handicapped owner, and has correctly calculated that she shouldn’t take up a handicapped spot when she doesn’t need one. That’s the right choice too. But forget enforcement: we’re discussing ethics. Just because a community mandates that drivers show extra consideration for the handicapped does not relieve the handicapped of the obligation to show consideration for everyone else when it is appropriate. It is appropriate when there is a surplus of handicapped spaces and a shortage of regular ones.

As the European nations learned the hard way by installing class systems, people who are given special privileges by the state, even relatively minor ones like parking space preferences, tend to forget that their privileges carry responsibilities. Everybody has a responsibility to think about the consequence of their actions on others.

Even drivers of cars with handicapped stickers.

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