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Report Number : 2016-121

Department of Motor Vehicles
Administrative and Statutory Changes Will Improve Its Ability to Detect and Deter Misuse of Disabled Person Parking Placards

April 18, 2017 2016-121


The Governor of California
President pro Tempore of the Senate
Speaker of the Assembly
State Capitol
Sacramento, California 95814

Dear Governor and Legislative Leaders:

As requested by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, the California State Auditor presents this audit report concerning the Department of Motor Vehicles’ (DMV) disabled person parking placard program. Disabled person parking placards (placards) and disabled person or disabled veteran license plates (plates) allow people to park in parking spaces for people with disabilities, in metered spaces without paying the meter, and in time-limited spaces without having to worry about those limitations. These benefits create a significant incentive for misuse. This report concludes that changes to DMV’s administration, and statutory changes by the Legislature, will allow for better detection and deterrence of the misuse of placards and plates.

DMV does not sufficiently ensure that applications for placards or plates are legitimate. For example, we found that medical providers certifying the majority of applications we reviewed did not include sufficient information regarding the placard holder’s disability to meet requirements in state law. In addition, we questioned whether the signatures of medical providers on several of the applications we reviewed matched information on file with the appropriate Department of Consumer Affairs’ healing arts boards (health boards), and noted that DMV does not work with the health boards to review selected applications, as state law allows. Further, DMV has not canceled permanent placards of thousands of individuals who are likely deceased. Specifically, we compared the name and date of birth of active placard holders from DMV’s data to the U.S. Social Security Administration’s Death Master File and identified nearly 35,000 matches. We also found that, as of June 30, 2016, nearly 26,000 placard holders were age 100 or older, despite an estimated centenarian population in California of roughly 8,000. Further, some permanent placard holders have requested an unusually high number of replacements for lost or stolen placards, and state law does not limit the number of replacements a holder may receive. However, DMV had not identified any of these issues because it does not actively analyze placard applications or application data and, consequently, DMV may be allowing people to fraudulently obtain placards.

Additionally, although DMV’s Investigations Unit performs effective sting operations to catch those misusing placards, it has not established specific expectations for the number of operations its district offices should conduct. In each of the sting operations we reviewed, investigators found an average misuse rate of 15 percent. However, we noted great variance in the number of sting operations that six of DMV’s district offices conducted, ranging from one to 18 during fiscal years 2013–14 through 2015–16. By not establishing reasonable goals to conduct regular sting operations, DMV fails to detect and deter as much of the continued placard misuse as it can, which affects those with disabilities who need special parking access. Finally, local parking enforcement lacks immediate access to DMV’s placard information, preventing these officials from efficiently identifying and seizing misused placards.

Respectfully submitted,

State Auditor

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