The placards that disabled drivers hang from their rear-view mirrors to gain access to designated parking spots are getting a new look in North Carolina.
The state Division of Motor Vehicles introduced the new placards last week. They are designed to make it easier for law enforcement officers to determine when the placard has expired, and they’re made of plastic that won’t break down the way the old cardboard ones do, said Kelly Thomas, the commissioner of motor vehicles.
Cardboard doesn’t do well when the placards get wet or after repeatedly being moved from the rear-view mirror to the glovebox or another vehicle and back again.
“It was not durable,” Thomas said. “The cardboard just wouldn’t stand up.”
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Sarah Sheffield of Raleigh has had a handicapped placard since 1998 and remembers when they used to be made of plastic. She’s happy to hear the state is abandoning the cardboard ones.
“The old one was really terrible,” she said. “Both of mine have fallen apart. I’ve Scotch taped them together.”
The new placards are part of a broader DMV effort to be more customer friendly. The agency made a host of changes last year, including allowing people to renew their driver’s licenses online, accepting credit and debit card payments in its offices and providing additional training for driver license examiners with the aim of making the DMV experience faster and more efficient.
The placard redesign was authorized by the General Assembly, which last spring passed a bill directing DMV to study ways to decrease the misuse of windshield placards issued to handicapped drivers. Rep. Michael Speciale, a Republican from New Bern who was the bill’s primary sponsor, said constituents had complained about seeing what appeared to be able-bodied people using placards to park in handicapped spots.
The bill directed DMV to consider ways to discourage that, such as including more personal information and perhaps a photo of the disabled driver on the placard.
But Thomas said the representatives from law enforcement agencies on the committee didn’t support putting photos or names and other information on the placards, because it wasn’t something they thought they could enforce anyway. Instead, he said, they supported new stickers that will more easily show when the placard expires.
If you’re permanently disabled, five years from now you’re still permanently disabled. So five years from now when you go to renew, you don’t need to bring a new doctor’s note.
Kelly Thomas, N.C. commissioner of motor vehicles
With the cardboard placards, it was up to the driver to punch out the expiration date. Not only were the marks hard to see, but it was tempting for unscrupulous drivers to pick the latest date possible to keep their placard, Thomas said.
The new stickers are the same design as the ones on license plates and appear on both sides of the placard.
Speciale said this week that he didn’t know the DMV had done the study required by his bill and that he would like to have taken part. Told about the new stickers that would make it harder to use an expired placard, he said, “I guess we got something out of it.”
The state issued 320,136 disability placards in 2015, accounting for about 4.5 percent of the state’s licensed drivers. About 16 percent of them were temporary placards, good for up to six months, while the rest were “permanent” placards, which must be renewed every five years. The new temporary placard has a red block on top to more easily distinguish it from the permanent one.
Starting in July, people who receive a permanent disability placard won’t have to bring in a fresh doctor’s note when they renew it every five years, the way they have in the past.
“If you’re permanently disabled, five years from now you’re still permanently disabled,” Thomas said. “So five years from now when you go to renew, you don’t need to bring a new doctor’s note.”