An NBC 6 investigation caught drivers using handicap placards that do not belong to them or that they are not entitled to to get convenient parking spaces at a popular South Florida gym.
NBC Investigators showed the video to prominent cardiologist, Dr. Gilbert Concepcion.
“It bothers me because it’s a blatant abuse,” Dr. Concepcion said, after watching drivers park in handicap spaces and then go into the Hialeah gym to lift weights, do ab exercises and even play racquetball.
During the two-month long investigation, the NBC6 Investigators saw one man use a handicap placard at least two times to park close to the gym and then go inside to play racquetball for over an hour.
When asked if it was his placards he said yes. He explained that he had knee surgery a while back because of injuries from playing racquetball.
"There is no gray zone here," Dr. Concepcion said. "He may have had a temporary disability at the time of surgery, if indeed that’s what he had, but certainly he has not manifested any disability while he’s playing racquetball or walking without any type of limitation to his car."
People with temporary disabilities can get a six-month placard, but this man’s placard was permanent. Recipients must meet strict criteria and doctors who fill out the application are entrusted with making sure they do.
According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, permanent placards are for the “legally blind” or for someone with a “permanent disability that limits or impairs his/her ability to walk 200 feet."
Other qualifying disabilities include “inability to walk without a brace, cane, crutch, prosthetic device, “the “need to permanently use a wheelchair,” people who must use “portable oxygen” or have a severe “cardiac condition."
Dr. Concepcion said he strictly adheres to the mandatory criteria.
"Some patients have even gotten upset with me because they think that the fact that they got a heart attack or they had a heart procedure in the past makes them eligible for the handicapped permit and in indeed most patients don’t,” he said.
There are plenty of reasons to want a permit. You usually get to park close to the front door and sometimes parking lots that charge allow people with the handicap placards to park for free.
How would someone get a permit without really needing it?
“Sometimes doctors in their busy schedule continue to extend disabilities without really checking,” Dr. Concepcion said.
And sometimes, as the NBC6 Investigators found out, some people “borrow” their relative’s permit. Cameras were rolling when one young man pulled up to a handicap spot in a white 4-door Mercedes Benz and went inside the gym to lift weights. When he left about an hour later, he admitted the permit wasn’t his.
"It's my dad’s,” he said but refused to answer why he was using it.
Dr. Concepcion says the man’s actions infuriated him.
"It’s a gross abuse of that privilege,” the doctor said.
Another girl caught on camera using her mother’s permit told the NBC6 Investigators “everyone does it."
If you’re caught parking in a handicapped spot without a placard you can get a $250 fine, but if you’re using someone else’s permit, that fine goes up to $1,000 and could be accompanied by six months of jail time.