Some people call it handicap parking. The proper term is accessible parking. But no matter what you call it, there are precise rules and regulations. Most people have no idea what those are. Many people who legally use the accessible spots have no idea either. So let’s clear some misunderstandings.
First, let’s clear the terminology. There is a parking space, the spot where you actually park your car. And then there is an access aisle. That is the striped space next to the parking space. One cannot have one without the other.
The new 2010 standards changed the original width of parking spaces. The new standard says that car spaces shall be a minimum of 96 inches (244 cm) wide, that is 8 ft. Van spaces shall be 132 inches (335 cm) wide, that is 11 ft. The access aisle for both car and van parking spaces shall be 60 inches (152 cm) minimum wide, that is 5 ft.
The older standard for van parking space of 96 inches minimum width with access aisle of 96 inches minimum width is acceptable.
The new requirements for van parking spaces should make it easier for van users, hopefully.
Two parking spaces can share one access aisle. Accessible parking spaces should be the closest ones to the business for which they serve.
The access aisle has to connect to accessible route. What it means is that from the access aisle there has to be a curb cut to the sidewalk. Yet the curb cut or a ramp must not interfere with the access aisle. The access aisle and parking space may not have a slope exceeding 1:48. The ramp can be as steep as 1:12, thus if put within the access isle would prevent a wheelchair user to safely transfer as the wheelchair couldn’t sit flat there. (Unfortunately you will see a ramp within an access aisle often as it seems to be a quicker and cheaper solution than cutting a curb cut into a sidewalk.)
Access aisles need to be clearly marked as to discourage from parking in them. Putting up a cement pole is a very effective way.
Access aisles can be both to the left or to the right of the vehicle. One is expected to be able to back into the parking spot if needed. There is only one exception to the rule: where the parking is diagonal (angled), the access aisle for a van has to be on the passenger side.
Parking spaces identification signs with the international symbol should be a minimum of 60 inches high from the ground. Spaces that are van accessible need to be marked “van accessible”. Even if there isn’t a painted sign on the ground but there is a sign on the wall or a pole, you need a permit.
There has to be at least one accessible parking space for every 25 parking spots. One out of six accessible spaces must be van accessible. If only one space is accessible, it has to be van accessible.
So the theory goes. You can read it on the Access Board site.
Now we all know that theory is one thing, practice is another. The rules are violated both by people without a parking permit (by simply using the spaces illegally) and by people with a permit. Just because you have a parking placard doesn’t mean that you don’t have to follow the rules. One of the common violations is that the space is not used by the permit holder. You use your grandma’s permit while you don’t have one. Not legal. You bring your grandma along and let her sit in the car while you go shopping. Not legal. Let’s say you have a permit. You park partly in the access aisle. Not legal. I see that all the time, people parked half way in the access aisle. If a wheelchair user needs the other spot, he can’t use it. Quite possibly you are also blocking the curb cut. Possibly the only curb cut around. You might have blocked the access to the already parked car on the other side of the aisle. The person might not be able to get back in. Or he/she will get in at your expense – some scrapes on your car because there was no way for that person to get in one’s car without some damage to your car (yes, an angry wheelchair user will do it and it’s all your fault, not his). And yes, you can get a fine for parking in the access aisle even if you have a permit.
So, let’s repeat it again. Never, ever, park in the access aisle! Not with a motorcycle, not with your car for which you have a permit. Just don’t do it!
When you know these rules and regulations, you will be surprised how little compliance there is. Parking spaces without an access aisle are quite common. Personally, I would advocate for wheelchair users only spaces with access aisle and non-wheelchair users spaces without the access aisle. My experience is that most accessible spaces are used by non-wheelchair users. Heart and lung issues, obesity, and arthritis being probably the most common reasons for a permit and its use. But the ADA regulations don’t distinguish so the rules need to be followed.
You will see a lot of spaces that are marked “van accessible”, yet are only car accessible. You will see no path of travel from your parking space to the store. Or the parking will be on a steep slope.
So here you have the knowledge. Use it well.