Misuse of Disability Placards or License Plates
(California Vehicle Code 4461 VC)

Vehicle Code 4461 is California's law against misusing a disability parking placard or license plate. This offense is also known as "handicapped parking fraud.”

VC 4461 prohibits misuse of a disability parking placard or license by:

  1. Lending it to some else or knowingly allowing someone else to use it;1
  2. Displaying a disabled placard or plates that:
    • have been canceled or revoked, or
    • were issued to someone else;2 or
  3. Parking in a designated disabled parking space if you are not disabled.3

Exception: transporting the disabled person

Under Vehicle Code 4461 a person may use a disabled placard or plates issued to someone else:

  • While in the presence or reasonable proximity of the disabled person to whom it was issued,
  • For the purpose of transporting the disabled person.4
Example: Irene is an elderly woman with diabetes. She no longer drives due to diabetic nerve damage and neuropathy in her feet.

But Irene is socially active and likes to go to the movies with her friends. She gets a disabled person placard. Irene's friends can use it to park in handicapped spots when Irene is with them so that Irene doesn't have to walk very far.

Penalties for handicapped parking fraud

Misuse of a disabled parking placard is a California “wobblette” offense. This means Vehicle Code 4461 can be punished as either:

  • A non-criminal infraction with a civil fine of between $250 and $1,000, or
  • California misdemeanor crime, with potential penalties of:
    • Up to six (6) months in county jail, and/or
    • A criminal fine of between $250 and $1,000.5

Legal defenses

Common legal defenses to Vehicle Code 4461 can include taking the position that:

  • The defendant did not knowingly let someone else use his or her disabled placard;
  • The defendant did know the placard had been canceled; and/or
  • The defendant was transporting a disabled person at the time of the alleged offense.

In order to help you better understand misuse of disabled placard under VC 4461, our California criminal defense lawyers discuss the following, below:

Disabled parking placard hanging from rearview mirror

1. What is misuse of a disabled person placard under VC 4461?

California Vehicle Code 4461 prohibits people from wrongfully using someone else's disabled parking placard or license plates. VC 4461 sets forth three distinct types of handicapped parking fraud:

  1. Letting someone else use disabled placards or plates,
  2. Using someone else's placard or an invalid placard, or
  3. Wrongfully parking in a handicapped parking space.

Let's take a closer look at each of these offenses.

1.1. Letting someone else use a disabled placard or plates

California Vehicle Code 4461(b) makes it a crime to:

  • Lend another person a disabled parking placard, or
  • Knowingly let someone else use it.
Example: Sadie and her elderly mother Ruth live next door to each other. Ruth is almost blind and has a disabled person placard for when Sadie drives her somewhere.

But Sadie sometimes runs errands for Ruth while Ruth stays at home. And when she does, she often borrows Ruth's placard.

Even though she is running errands for a disabled person, this is a misuse of the placard by Sadie. And if Ruth knowingly lets her do it, it is also a misuse of the placard by Ruth.

1.2. Displaying an invalid placard

Vehicle Code 4461(c) prohibits people from displaying a parking placard in their vehicle if:

  1. It was issued to someone else (unless they are transporting that person), or
  2. It has been canceled or has been revoked.6

Note that someone does not need to be in a disabled parking spot to be guilty under VC 4461(c). Just displaying the placard on your car is sufficient for a conviction.7

Example: Juan's father has a disability placard. When Juan's father dies, the DMV cancels it.

Juan then hangs the expired placard on his rearview mirror of his car to remind him of his Dad. Unfortunately, this is misuse of a disabled placard -- even though Juan has not been using it to park in disabled spots.

1.3. Wrongfully parking in a handicapped spot

Vehicle Code 4461 (d) makes it unlawful to park in a handicapped parking spot if:

  1. The vehicle has DP plates that were issued to someone else, and
  2. The driver is not transporting a disabled person.
Example: Morris and Eva are married. Morris has a neurological disorder that restricts his mobility. His car displays a disabled license plate; Eva's car does not.

Whenever Eva drives to the downtown area of their city, where parking is hard to find, she makes a point of taking Morris's car and using it to park in disabled spots. Eva does this even when Morris is not coming with her.

Eva is guilty of misuse of a disabled plate.

BUT

Example: Eva and Morris drive to a restaurant together in Morris's car (which has a DP Plate).

Eva drops Morris off right in front of the restaurant entrance so he doesn't have to walk at all. Then she drives to the parking lot behind the restaurant and parks the car in a disabled stall.

Eva is NOT guilty of illegal use of a disabled plate because she was using the car to transport a disabled person (Morris).

Handicapped parking space marked with wheelchair symbol and adjacent crosshatched wheelchair access area.
No one may park in the “crosshatched” wheelchair access area next to a handicapped parking space

2. Penalties under Vehicle Code 4461 VC

2.1. Is a violation of California 4461 a crime?

Vehicle Code 4461 is a California “wobblette” offense. This means it can be punished as either:

  • A civil infraction (similar to a parking ticket),8 or
  • A criminal misdemeanor.9

Whether the offender will be criminally prosecuted is within the prosecutor's discretion.10

Factors that may influence the decision include:

  • The severity of the violation, and
  • Whether the offender has a history of similar or other violations.

2.2. Civil fines

Vehicle Code 4461 is often punished as a civil infraction. Infractions are offenses punishable by a fine only.11

The minimum civil fine for misuse of a disabled placard is two hundred fifty dollars ($250). The maximum is one thousand dollars ($1,000).12

Someone who does not pay the fine can be charged with the crime of failure to appear or pay for a traffic citation.13

2.3. Criminal penalties

Misuse of handicapped tags or plates can be charged as a misdemeanor under California Vehicle Code 4461. When charged as a misdemeanor, potential penalties for VC 4461 can include:

  • Up to 6 months in county jail; and/or
  • A fine of between $250 and $1,000.14

Or the defendant might be sentenced to misdemeanor (summary) probation.15

Defendants sentenced to probation may have to pay a fine and/or perform community service or attend counseling.

2.4. Additional fines

Regardless of whether VC 4461 is charged as a misdemeanor or an infraction, the court may order payment of an additional fine of up to $1,500.16

This fine will usually be imposed against someone who misuses a placard or plates to park in a handicapped spot or zone. It is less likely to be imposed against someone who wrongfully allows another person to use his or her DP tags or plates.

Cities and counties also have the right to add an additional penalty of up to one $100.17

Judge's gavel on top of pile of U.S. banknotes
Handicapped parking fraud can result in significant fines as well as possible jail time

3. Legal defenses

Legal defenses to misuse of a handicapped placard or plates fall into two general categories:

  1. Lack of knowledge, and/or
  2. No actual misuse because the defendant was transporting a disabled person.

Let's take a closer look at these two defenses

3.1. Lack of knowledge

People are not guilty under VC 4461 of letting someone else use their handicapped placard or plate unless they knowingly allowed it.

If a placard was taken without the owner's permission, the owner is not guilty under VC 4461.

As Santa Clarita criminal defense attorney John Murray18 explains:

“If a family member, friend or acquaintance was used your disabled placard illegally, an overzealous DMV investigator may want to charge you too.

But you cannot be punished just for not keeping close enough track of your placard. You must actually have given it to the other person for a reason other than to transport you.”

3.2. No actual misuse

Parking in a handicapped spot is not a violation of VC 4461 if:

  1. The person to whom the placard or plates was issued is in the car or in near proximity, and
  2. The person using the vehicle was transporting that person.

The person with the disability does not need to be in the car in order for this to be a legitimate act.

Example: Ed, a former soldier, lost his leg in an explosion in Afghanistan. Ed applied for and received disabled veteran plates for his car. Ed's friends and family can then drive Ed's car when they do things together.

One day Ed's daughter, Lois, takes Ed to a doctor's appointment. She drops him in front of the building and then goes to park the car. A cop sees Lois get out of the car with no apparent disability. The cop issues a ticket.

But because Lois was transporting Ed, to whom the plates were issued, and Ed is nearby, Lois is not guilty.

Young woman helping elderly disabled woman get into a car's front passenger seat.
The person with the disability does not need to be in the car in order for this to be a legitimate act.

4. About DP placards and plates

4.1. What is a disabled person placard?

A disabled person placard (“DP placard”) is a large blue tag that hangs on a disabled person's rearview mirror. Also known as a “handicapped parking placard,” it contains a wheelchair symbol (officially called the “International Symbol of Access”).19

Wheelchair symbol, or International Symbol of Access
A stylized wheelchair is the “International Symbol of Access.”

4.2. What types of handicapped placards are available?

The California Department of Motor Vehicles issues the following types of DP placards:

  • Permanent parking placard.

A permanent placard is available to someone with a permanent disability.20 It is valid for two years and expires on June 30 of every odd-numbered year.

There is no fee for a permanent DP placard. Once issued, recertification by a medical professional is not required and it does not need to be renewed. The DMV will automatically mail a new placard to the address it has on file.

  • Temporary parking.

People with temporary disabilities can get a temporary DP placard for up to 6 months.21 It expires on the earlier of:

  • The date noted by the certifying medical professional on the application, or
  • 6 months from the date on which it is issued.

There is a nominal fee (currently $6.00) for the application.22 This card can be renewed up to 6 consecutive times.23

  • Travel parking placard for California residents

California residents who already have a permanent DP parking placard or license plates can also obtain a no-cost travel parking placard, good for 30 days from issuance.24

These are especially useful when traveling within the state in someone else's car or when renting a car within California.

  • Travel parking placard for nonresidents

Non-California residents with a permanent disability can obtain a travel placard for use within California at no charge. The placard is good until the earlier of:

  • 90 days from issuance, or
  • The date noted by the certifying medical professional on the application.

4.3. What are DP license plates?

California disabled parking license plates (“DP plates”) work the same as a permanent disability placard. But unlike a placard they can only be used in one vehicle, which must be registered to:

  • A person with a permanent disability,25 or
  • An organization or agency involved in the transportation of disabled persons or disabled veterans.26

4.4. Disabled veteran license plates

The California DMV also issues disabled veteran license plates (“DV plates”). A veteran qualifies for DV plates if he or she

  1. Became disabled while on active service with the U.S. Armed Forces, and
  2. The veteran either:
  • Has a 100% disability rating;
  • Has lost, or lost the use of, one or more limbs; or
  • Is permanently blind.27

“Blindness” means the person has:

  • Not more than 20/200 central visual acuity in the better eye after correction, or
  • Visual acuity greater than 20/200 but with a limitation in the fields of vision such that the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle no greater than 20 degrees.2
Veteran in uniform sitting in wheelchair in front of an American flag
The California DMV issues special no cost license plates to disabled veterans

4.5. Who can use handicapped parking privileges?

California DP placards and plates may be used by:

  • A disabled individual him- or herself, or
  • A person who is transporting the disabled individual.29

Note that handicapped parking plates and tags may not be used by anyone else for any reason – not even by someone else who is also disabled.

4.6. When is someone considered disabled?

The California DMV considers someone disabled if they have one or more of the following conditions:

  • Loss of, or significant limitation in the use of, one or more lower extremities;
  • Loss of both hands;
  • A diagnosed disease that substantially impairs or interferes with mobility;
  • A severe disability that prevents the person from moving without the aid of an assistive device;
  • Serious vision problems such as loss of visual acuity or field of vision;
  • Serious lung disease; and/or
  • Serious heart disease.30

4.7. Where can handicapped people legally park in California?

In addition to regular parking spaces, DP placards and DP plates allow drivers to park:

  • In parking spaces with the International Symbol of Access (wheelchair symbol).
  • Next to a blue curb authorized for persons with disabilities parking.
  • Next to a green curb (limited time parking) with no time limitation.
  • In an on-street metered parking space at no charge.
  • In an area that otherwise requires a resident or merchant permit.

Full-service gas stations must also refuel the vehicle at self-service rates unless there is only one employee on duty.

No use where parking is prohibited

Disabled person parking privileges do NOT allow people to park:

  • In the “crosshatched” areas next to handicapped parking spaces (wheelchair and wheelchair lift access areas);
  • Next to red curbs (no stopping, standing, or parking).
  • Next to yellow curbs (commercial vehicle loading and unloading area), or
  • Next to white curbs (for passenger loading/unloading or dropping mail in an adjacent mailbox).

4.8. How to obtain handicapped parking privileges in California

Disability placards and plates can be obtained by filing a California DMV Form REG 195 Application for Disabled Person or Plates.

The certification section of the application must also be signed by:

4.9. Who can certify a disability?

Medical professionals who can certify a disability are:

  • A licensed physician, surgeon, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, or a certified nurse midwife with knowledge of the disease and/or disability.
  • A licensed chiropractor (in the case of a person who has lost the use of one or both lower extremities or who has a significant limitation in the use of his or her lower extremities); or
  • A licensed optometrist, physician or surgeon who specializes in diseases of the eye.31

The following people do NOT need a medical certification:

  • A person has lost a lower extremity or both hands and applies for the placard or plates in person at the DMV;
  • Someone who already has a permanent DP placard or DP plates and is applying for the other one; or
  • A veteran with certification from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs stating that the applicant is a disabled veteran.

4.10. Can I use an out-of-state disability placard or license plates in California?

Under California law, out-of-state disabled placards and license plates are valid to the same extent as ones issued by the California DMV.32

A disabled person who does not have either can also obtain a temporary travel placard at no cost from the California DMV. This might be desirable if:

The person does not drive at home (for instance because they live somewhere with good public transportation), or

The person has disabled plates but is not bringing his or her car to California.

A temporary travel placard can be issued for a maximum of 90 days. Otherwise, the requirements are the same as for any other temporary DP placard, including certification by a medical professional.33

Man in jeans and button up shirt walking across a city street with a service dog
Service dog fraud is punished similarly to handicapped parking fraud in California

5. Related offenses to Vehicle Code 4461

Misuse of a disabled placard is often charged along with —or instead of—one or more related California offenses. Offenses related to VC 4461 include:

5.1. Vehicle Code 4463(b) - forging or falsifying a DP placard

Vehicle Code 4463(b) is California's law against forging a DP placard. VC 4463(b) makes it a misdemeanor to:

  • Forge, counterfeit, or falsify a disabled person placard; or
  • Knowingly pass off (or attempt to pass off) as genuine a false, forged or counterfeit disabled person placard; or
  • Acquire, possess, sell or offer to sell a counterfeit DP placard.34

Violation of Vehicle Code 4463(b) carries a possible sentence of:

  • Up to six (6) months in county jail, and/or
  • A fine of between $500 and $1,000.35

And unlike the penalties for some misdemeanors, the penalties for VC 4463(b) may not be suspended.36

5.2. Vehicle Code 4463(c) - displaying a counterfeit DP placard

California Vehicle Code 4463(c) makes it unlawful to display or permit the display, of a counterfeit disabled placard, with intent to commit a fraud.

VC 4463(c) is a California “wobblette” offense. It can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a non-criminal infraction.

As a misdemeanor, Vehicle Code 4463(c) carries possible consequences of:

  • Up to 6 months in county jail, and/or
  • A criminal fine of between $250 and $1,000.37

As an infraction, VC 4463(c) can be punished by a civil fine of $250 to $1,000.38

5.3. Penal Code 472 - forgery of a public seal

Someone who commits handicapped parking fraud may also be charged with forgery of a public seal, Penal Code 472.

This law makes it a crime to:

  1. Possess and “willfully conceal” a counterfeit seal of a government entity,
  2. With the intent to use it to commit a fraud.39

This crime might be charged if someone has forged DMV documents that make it seem as if a placard belongs to the person using it.

Forgery of a public seal is a California "wobbler" offense.40 This means it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

As a misdemeanor, PC 472 can be punished by:

  • Up to one year in a county jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to $1,000.41

As a felony, forgery of a counterfeit seal includes potential penalties of:

5.4. Vehicle Code 31 – providing false information to a peace officer

Vehicle Code 31 defines the crime of giving false information to a peace officer in California.

Someone might be charged with VC 31 for lying to the police about who really owns a DP placard or DP plates.

Giving false information to a peace/police officer is a misdemeanor in California.43 It can be punished by:

  • Up to 6 months in county jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to $1,000.44

5.5. Service dog fraud

Penal Code 365.7 is California's law on service dog fraud. PC 365.7 makes it a crime for someone to knowingly and falsely represent him- or herself as the owner or trainer of a licensed guide, signal, or service dog.45

Service dog fraud is a misdemeanor.46 It carries potential penalties of:

  • Up to 6 months in county jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to $1,000).47

Call us for help…

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Call us for help

If you have been charged with Vehicle Code 4461 we invite you to contact us for a free consultation.

Call us at 855-LawFirm to discuss your case confidentially with a California criminal defense lawyer near you.

We have local criminal law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.

Our Las Vegas and Reno offices can also help people charged with "parking in a handicapped space" in Nevada (NRS 484B.467).


Legal References:

  1. California Vehicle Code 4461(b): “A person to whom a disabled person placard has been issued shall not lend the placard to another person, and a disabled person shall not knowingly permit the use for parking purposes of the placard or identification license plate issued pursuant to Section 5007 by one not entitled to it. A person to whom a disabled person placard has been issued may permit another person to use the placard only while in the presence or reasonable proximity of the disabled person for the purpose of transporting the disabled person. A violation of this subdivision is subject to the issuance of a notice of parking violation imposing a civil penalty of not less than two hundred fifty dollars ($250) and not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), for which enforcement shall be governed by the procedures set forth in Article 3 (commencing with Section 40200) of Chapter 1 of Division 17 or is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not less than two hundred fifty dollars ($250) and not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), imprisonment in the county jail for not more than six months, or both that fine and imprisonment.”
  2. Vehicle Code 4461(c): “Except for the purpose of transporting a disabled person as specified in subdivision (b), a person shall not display a disabled person placard that was not issued to him or her or that has been canceled or revoked pursuant to Section 22511.6. A violation of this subdivision is subject to the issuance of a notice of parking violation imposing a civil penalty of not less than two hundred fifty dollars ($250) and not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), for which enforcement shall be governed by the procedures set forth in Article 3 (commencing with Section 40200) of Chapter 1 of Division 17 or is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not less than two hundred fifty dollars ($250) and not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), imprisonment in the county jail for not more than six months, or both that fine and imprisonment.”
  3. Vehicle Code 4461(d): “Notwithstanding subdivisions (a), (b), and (c), a person using a vehicle displaying a special identification license plate issued to another pursuant to Section 5007 shall not park in those parking stalls or spaces designated for disabled persons pursuant to Section 22511.7 or 22511.8, unless transporting a disabled person. A violation of this subdivision is subject to the issuance of a notice of parking violation imposing a civil penalty of not less than two hundred fifty dollars ($250) and not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), for which enforcement shall be governed by the procedures set forth in Article 3 (commencing with Section 40200) of Chapter 1 of Division 17 or is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not less than two hundred fifty dollars ($250) and not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), imprisonment in the county jail for not more than six months, or both that fine and imprisonment.”
  4. Vehicle Code 4461(b), (c) and (d).
  5. Same.
  6. Vehicle Code 22511.6:  

    (a) The Department of Motor Vehicles may cancel or revoke a distinguishing placard issued pursuant to Section 22511.55 or 22511.59 in any of the following events:

    (1) When the department is satisfied that the placard was fraudulently obtained or erroneously issued.

    (2) When the department determines that the required fee has not been paid and the fee is not paid upon reasonable notice and demand.

    (3) When the placard could have been refused when last issued or renewed.

    (4) When the department determines that the owner of the placard has committed any offense described in Section 4461 or 4463, involving the placard to be canceled or revoked.

    (5) When the department determines that the owner of the placard is deceased.

    (b) Whenever the Department of Motor Vehicles cancels or revokes a distinguishing placard, the owner or person in possession of the placard shall immediately return the placard to the department.

  7. See Vehicle Code 4461(c).
  8. Penal Code 19.6 PC.
  9. Penal Code 19.8 PC.
  10. See Penal Code 17(d).
  11. Penal Code 19.6.
  12. Penal Code 19.8 PC.
  13. Vehicle Code 40508 VC.
  14. Penal Code 19 PC: “Except in cases where a different punishment is prescribed by any law of this state, every offense declared to be a misdemeanor is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both.”
  15. Penal Code 1203(a).
  16. Vehicle Code 4461.5: “In addition to, or instead of, any fine imposed for conviction of a violation of subdivision (c) or (d) of Section 4461, the court may impose a civil penalty of not more than one thousand five hundred dollars ($1,500) for each conviction.”
  17. Vehicle Code 4461.3.
  18. Criminal defense attorney John Murray defends clients in criminal court and at California DMV hearings throughout Orange County, the Pomona Valley, and Western San Bernardino County.
  19. Vehicle Code 4461(e): “For the purposes of subdivisions (b) and (c), ‘disabled person placard' means a placard issued pursuant to Section 22511.55 or 22511.59.”

    See also Vehicle Code 22511.55 and Vehicle Code 22511.59.

  20. Vehicle Code 22511.55.
  21. Vehicle Code 22511.59.
  22. Vehicle Code 22511.59(b)(5).
  23. Vehicle Code 22511.59 (c)(6).
  24. Vehicle Code 22511.59 (d)(1). 
  25. Vehicle Code 22511.55(a)(1).
  26. Provided the motor vehicle that will have the special license plate is used solely for the purpose of transporting those persons. See Vehicle Code 5007.
  27. Vehicle Code 295.7.
  28. California Welfare and Institutions Code 19153.
  29. See Vehicle Code 4461(b)-(d).
  30. Vehicle Code 295.5.  

    A “disabled person” is any of the following:

    (a) Any person who has lost, or has lost the use of, one or more lower extremities or both hands, or who has significant limitation in the use of lower extremities, or who has a diagnosed disease or disorder which substantially impairs or interferes with mobility, or who is so severely disabled as to be unable to move without the aid of an assistant device.

    (b) Any person who is blind to the extent that the person's central visual acuity does not exceed 20/200 in the better eye, with corrective lenses, as measured by the Snellen test, or visual acuity that is greater than 20/200, but with a limitation in the field of vision such that the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle not greater than 20 degrees.

    (c) Any person who suffers from lung disease to the extent of any of the following:

    (1) The person's forced (respiratory) expiratory volume for one second when measured by spirometry is less than one liter.

    (2) The person's arterial oxygen tension (pO2) is less than 60 mm/Hg on room air while the person is at rest.

    (d) Any person who is impaired by cardiovascular disease to the extent that the person's functional limitations are classified in severity as class III or class IV based upon standards accepted by the American Heart Association.

  31. Vehicle Code 22511.55(b)(1).
  32. Vehicle Code 22511.5.  
  33. Vehicle Code 22511.59(c).
  34. Vehicle Code 4463(b).
  35. Same.
  36. Same.
  37. Vehicle Code 4463(c).
  38. Same.
  39. Penal Code 472.
  40. Penal Code 473.
  41. Same.
  42. Same. See also Penal Code 18 [Punishment for felony not otherwise prescribed; alternate sentence to county jail] and Penal Code 672 [Offenses for which no fine prescribed; fine authorized in addition to imprisonment].
  43. Vehicle Code 40000.5.
  44. Penal Code 19.
  45. Penal Code 365.7(a).
  46. Same.
  47. Same. See also Penal Code 19.

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