LEBANON — Although Carl VanDee, 71, is retired after a 45-year career in manufacturing, a couple days a week he puts on a Lebanon Police Department cap and vest and takes on the role of community educator.
VanDee wants the public to learn and obey the rules when it comes to parking in handicap-accessible parking spaces — especially drivers who have a placard but are still parking illegally.
“Just like a driver’s license, having a handicap placard is a privilege,” VanDee said during a recent patrol in the Walmart parking lot. “The holders are responsible to make sure they keep themselves up to date on all changes related to that privilege.”
That means knowing about wheelchair-user-only spaces.
Although the law was originally set to take effect in January 2008, the starting date was later delayed until January 2011. Existing parking lots were grandfathered in, allowing signage and striping to be changed when regular maintenance or changes were scheduled.
Walmart recently added wheelchair-user-only signage, and VanDee and two other volunteers, Larry Baker and Bill Kohler, have been busy educating drivers. Since October 2011, the volunteers have given out more than 300 notices to errant parkers in the Walmart lot alone.
“To qualify, a person has to have a doctor certify he or she uses a wheelchair a minimum of 95 percent of the day,” VanDee said. The wheelchair-only placards are a lighter blue than the standard handicap placards and have the words “wheelchair user.”
VanDee began volunteering at the Lebanon Police Department in 2007 after having spent four years volunteering with a similar program in Fremont, Calif.
“I got interested when my wife broke her leg, and I’ve always been a big believer in quality of life at all ages,” he said. “If a person can continue to get out of the house, that’s important.”
VanDee says it’s “a good day when I don’t issue a ticket.” Last week he issued two citations and four warnings and counseled 15 drivers.
“We usually only counsel four or five people, but with the new wheelchair rules, it’s up,” VanDee said. “On average, about 25 percent of our contacts end up with a citation.
VanDee said placards can be hung from the vehicle’s rearview mirror or placed on the dashboard, but the entire placard must be visible.
On Tuesday, he pointed out a placard that was jammed so far down between the windshield and dashboard that the bottom third was hidden. That’s where the expiration date and type of handicap are found.
He contacted the justice center by radio to confirm that the placard was valid — it was — and then filled out a warning and placed it under the driver’s side windshield wiper blade.
VanDee said in Lebanon the minimum fine for placard misuse is $160. The amount was recently reduced statewide from $360.
VanDee said the main message is that placard holders need to read all signs before parking vehicles and they also need to check on new laws that usually take effect every January.
For more information, contact Dala Johnson, Lebanon community services officer, at 541-258-4339 or email@example.com.