The worst offenders were found to be people aged between 45–55; among whom one in six confessed that they invaded these reserved spaces ‘often.’
These abuses of the ‘Blue Badge’ parking system emerged in a survey of 1,009 people conducted on behalf of the Welsh Government as part of a drive to encourage greater respect for the parking rights of disabled vehicle users.
With the Paralympic Games only a week away, the initiative was also supported by legendary Paralympic athlete, Dame Tanni Grey Thomson; herself a Blue Badge holder.
It follows the recent introduction of new-style Blue Badges for legitimate users of Blue Badge spaces. The badge contains additional security features to help the authorities identify improper use and prevent forgeries and is free across Wales but not in England and Scotland.
The Welsh Government has stated its intention to crack down on the so called ‘space invaders’ who either park in a designated space without a Blue Badge or use a badge fraudulently.
Abuse of the Blue Badge parking system denies spaces to legitimate users; often causing them major inconvenience or physical pain when they are forced to park further away from shops or other facilities.
Despite significant flouting of the rules, the results of the survey also revealed strong public support for tougher policing of the system.
Nearly 70% of respondents said it was never acceptable to park in an accessible space without a permit, with only 6% arguing that it is acceptable if someone is in a hurry or only wants to stay a few minutes.
In addition more than a third of those questioned said illegal users of these spaces should be clamped or towed away, with only 20% saying a fine of less than £100 was appropriate.
Although the new-style badges are issued by local councils, they are linked to a new UK database of eligible users. This makes it much easier for police and parking wardens anywhere in the country to verify whether or not a badge is being used legitimately.
Dame Tanni backed the tightening-up of the system and said she was keenly aware of the problems caused by abusers, even though they constitute only a minority of the motoring public. She said:
“Abuse of the system is definitely a problem, and things need to change. I think this issue has got worse and gradually the problem has become more widespread over the years. People do cheat the system.”
The multiple Paralympic medal winner, who is a wheelchair user, said she has personally experienced the problem. She explained:
“I need the space to open my car door wide enough to get my wheelchair out and yet people use the bays when they shouldn’t.”
“There are different levels of abuse. There are people who use badges belonging to other members of the family. Others forge Blue Badges or just don’t even use a Blue Badge at all.”
“I would just like those who do park illegally in these spaces to think before they do so. Just think about others who are not as able to get around as they are and realise that it is not fair.”
Minister for Local Government and Communities, Carl Sargeant, said:
“The new and more secure Blue Badge is designed to prevent misuse of these permits and reduce illegal parking in these spaces generally.”
“ The survey shows there is strong public support for this. While only a small minority break the rules, they can make life a misery for many disabled vehicle users. We need to stamp out this practice.”
In Wales there are around 230,000 Blue Badges in use and 2.5 million across the UK. An official UK Government report has pointed to widespread abuse of the system either through forgery of badges or use of real badges by those not entitled to use them.
In addition to the negative impact this has on disabled people, the report estimated that fraudulent or improper use of these badges also costs the UK a total of £46million a year in parking fee evasion.
Introduction of the new-style Blue Badges began in April this year and they will be issued to all eligible users as their existing permits fall due for renewal over the next three years.