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Report Number : 2016-121

Department of Motor Vehicles
Administrative and Statutory Changes Will Improve Its Ability to Detect and Deter Misuse of Disabled Person Parking Placards

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Chapter 1


The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) does not sufficiently ensure that applications for disabled person parking placards (placards) or disabled person or disabled veteran license plates (plates) are legitimate, nor is it taking sufficient steps to cancel placards for deceased placard holders or to ensure that placard holders claiming replacement placards can legitimately do so. We also found applications for placards or plates with illegible disability certifications and with a medical provider certifying a type of disability he or she was not allowed to certify. Further, we identified thousands of likely deceased holders whose placards were still active. Finally, some placard holders requested an unusually high number of replacements for lost or stolen placards, and state law does not limit the number of replacements a holder may receive. However, DMV had not identified any of these issues because it does not actively analyze placard applications or application data.

DMV Has Not Adequately Scrutinized Placard Applications, and We Question the Validity of Some Applications

DMV does not sufficiently review applications for the disabled person parking placard program (placard program) to ensure they are legitimate, and it does not consistently follow the policies it has in place to review applications. Individuals desiring a placard or plate must complete a two‑page application that includes a certification from an authorized, licensed medical provider that the applicant has a qualifying disability. The applicant does not need a provider’s certification if the applicant has a readily observable and uncontested disability that is verified by a DMV employee, is an organization involved in transporting people with disabilities, or is a disabled veteran whose disability has been certified by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. However, we found that DMV does not adequately review these applications. For example, DMV staff are supposed to reject applications that are illegible, yet we found illegible disability information in 5 percent of the applications we reviewed. Further, we identified that five other applications were certified by podiatrists, whom state law does not currently authorize to certify disabilities. We also found another two applications where the medical provider certifying the disability was not allowed to certify that type of disability under state law, even though DMV has issued guidance for its staff to look for this issue. Further, we found that 73 percent of the applications we reviewed did not include enough information on the applicants’ disabilities to meet requirements in state law for certification, and nearly 18 percent of the providers’ signatures on the applications did not match the signatures on paperwork on file with the appropriate healing arts boards of the Department of Consumer Affairs (health boards). Without following the controls in place to review applications, DMV may be allowing people to fraudulently obtain placards.

DMV Did Not Ensure That Medical Provider Certifications of Individuals’ Disabilities Contained Required Detail

Some medical providers are not including enough information regarding the applicant’s disability to satisfy state requirements. State law requires authorized providers to include a full description of the illness or disability on the application for a placard. We worked with the appropriate health boards responsible for licensing the various medical providers to review our sample of applications for compliance with state law. The health boards have medical experts they employ or consult with to conduct, for example, investigations of licensed medical providers. These medical experts found that 70 of the 96 original applications we reviewed, or 73 percent, did not include a full description of the illness or disability. If we project to the population of applications for placards or plates DMV approved from July 2013 through June 2016, this suggests that DMV approved nearly 1.1 million applications that did not include enough information to meet requirements in state law for certifying the applicant’s disability.

Although state law allows it to do so, DMV does not collaborate with the health boards to review applications. The chief of DMV’s registration operations division (registration division chief) noted that employees cannot question medical information on the application because they are not medical professionals. This explanation seems reasonable. However, DMV has missed an opportunity to provide for a review of applications to ensure that providers’ certifications are sufficient. State law requires providers who certify an applicant’s illness or disability to retain sufficient information to support the diagnosis for inspection by the respective health boards at DMV’s request. The law also authorizes DMV to conduct annual, random audits of placard applications to verify the authenticity of the disability certificates and to review information supporting placard applications. Thus, we expected DMV to be working with the health boards to periodically review a selection of placard applications or at least provide guidance to medical providers on the requirements of the program. However, DMV has done neither. DMV’s deputy chief of DMV’s Investigations Unit (Investigations) noted that DMV had not worked with the health boards because it assumed that the boards would not provide DMV with information because of the privacy requirements in the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).

HIPAA establishes national standards to protect individuals’ medical records and other personal health information and sets forth the circumstances in which medical providers who conduct certain health care transactions electronically may use or disclose such protected information. For example, such providers may disclose protected health information when a patient consents to such disclosure. Additionally, HIPAA permits providers to disclose protected health information without a patient’s authorization when required by statute or regulation. However, while HIPAA permits disclosure without patient consent when statute or regulation requires disclosure, state law generally requires the applicable health boards to obtain patient consent unless the applicable board issues an investigative subpoena or otherwise obtains a valid legal order. For example, the executive director of the Medical Board of California noted that it cannot get access to patient records without patient consent unless it has compelling evidence available to obtain a court order.

Despite limitations in federal and state law, DMV and health boards have opportunities to identify insufficient certifications and launch investigations. Although patients or providers willfully defrauding DMV are unlikely to voluntarily provide incriminating information, we found that the medical experts were able to identify significant deficiencies by reviewing only the description of the illness or disability provided on the applications for placards or plates without needing access to additional medical information. Further, when DMV or the health boards determine—for example, through an audit of a selection of placard applications—that an applicant’s certification is insufficient, DMV has the authority to ask for additional information to meet the requirements in state law and cancel the placard if, after a reasonable time, the applicant does not respond. Finally, were DMV to accumulate enough evidence against a provider, it could work with the applicable health board to open an investigation, and the health board could, if necessary, issue an investigative subpoena. Thus, despite limitations in federal and state law, cooperation between the health boards and DMV could ensure that providers are including adequate information on applications to support the certification of disabilities.

Also, we found that DMV had approved many applications in which the providers’ certifications of the disabilities were illegible, which makes us question the validity of these certifications. DMV’s application requires that providers include a full, legible description of the illness or disability. However, we determined, and the medical experts confirmed, that the disability certifications for five of 96 original applications we reviewed, or 5 percent, were illegible. Projecting to the larger population of applications approved from July 2013 through June 2016, DMV may have approved more than 76,000 illegible applications for placards or plates from July 2013 through June 2016. DMV already requires staff to review applications for all required information and to ensure that the provider properly completes the certification, which includes providing legible information. DMV’s registration division chief attributed the approvals of these illegible applications to human error.  When DMV does not ensure that applications include all information the law requires and that all such information is legible, it creates the opportunity for applicants to submit fraudulent disability certifications and receive placards or plates without a qualifying illness or disability.

DMV Allowed Some Medical Providers to Certify Disabilities That They Were Not Legally Permitted to Certify

In our audit sample, podiatrists certified disabilities for a number of applicants for placards even though they are currently not allowed to do so. We found a range of medical provider types in our representative sample of applications and, as Figure 4 shows, medical providers in the physician and surgeon category certified the majority of disabilities in the applications we reviewed. However, in five of the 96 applications we reviewed, or 5 percent, podiatrists certified the qualifying disability. Projecting to the larger population of applications approved from July 2013 through June 2016, we estimate that podiatrists certified more than 76,000 of the more than 1.4 million applications DMV approved during the audit period, even though podiatrists are not one of the six types of medical providers allowed to certify disabilities for a placard or plate.

Figure 4
Types of Medical Providers That Certified Disabilities for the Disabled Person Parking Placard Program Based on a Representative Sample of Applications Drawn From the Universe of Applications Approved by DMV
July 1, 2013, Through June 30, 2016

Figure 4, a pie chart showing the distribution of medical provider types who certified a representative sample of applications DMV approved from July 2013 through June 2016.

Sources: California State Auditor’s representative sample of certifications drawn from the universe of original applications for disabled person parking placards (placards) or disabled person or disabled veteran license plates (plates) approved by DMV from July 1, 2013, through June 30, 2016, and state law.

Note: State law authorizes optometrists and nurse midwives to certify disabilities on applications for placards and plates; however, none appeared in our sample. Our results should be interpreted as a best estimate and include a range of potential values based on the sampling criteria we chose. We used a 95 percent confidence interval and a 10 percent precision rate to determine an appropriate sample size.

*The category of physician and surgeon includes osteopathic physicians, which represented 4 percent of our sample. Although osteopaths are licensed by a different entity, state law considers them to be physicians and surgeons.

State law does not currently authorize podiatrists to certify disabilities on applications for placards and plates.

State law identifies specific provider types that may certify disabilities for the placard program, but podiatrists are not included. As shown in Table 1 in the Introduction, only certain provider types, including physicians and surgeons, may certify disabilities for placard and plate applications. Further, under state law, only those issued physicians and surgeons certificates by either the Medical Board of California or the Osteopathic Medical Board of California are permitted to practice medicine as physicians and surgeons. In contrast, podiatrists are certified to practice podiatric medicine and are therefore precluded from certifying applicants’ disabilities. When we brought this to DMV’s attention, its registration division chief noted that he had been unaware that podiatrists were certifying applicants’ disabilities.

Nevertheless, DMV staff should have identified and denied applications certified by podiatrists. While all of the podiatrists in our sample indicated they were either a physician or surgeon, each of them also listed their medical provider number as assigned by the Board of Podiatric Medicine. These numbers are distinct from those of other providers authorized to certify disabilities under the placard program. Specifically, podiatrists’ numbers begin with the letter “E” followed by four digits, whereas providers licensed by the Medical Board of California have numbers that begin with “A,” “C,” or “G” followed generally by five or six digits, and those licensed by the Osteopathic Medical Board of California always begin with “20A.” Therefore, DMV staff could have easily identified and rejected those applications certified by podiatrists. DMV provides no training to the staff that process these applications to identify provider numbers that do not align with expectations, nor does a DMV reference manual for staff provide instruction on identifying unusual provider numbers. Although DMV staff should have rejected applications certified by podiatrists, because there were a notable number of such applications and because of podiatrists’ role in medical treatment of the foot as established in state law, we consider podiatrists appropriate medical providers to certify certain disabilities for placards or plates. However, allowing them to make certifications would require a change in state law.

Additionally, although state law specifies the particular disabilities each type of provider may certify, DMV approved some applications that did not meet those requirements. For two of the 96 original applications we reviewed, providers certified disabilities that they are not allowed to certify under state law. For example, a physician and surgeon with a specialty in endocrinology (the body system that controls hormones) and internal medicine certified that an applicant had a vision‑related disability. However, state law only permits an optometrist or a physician and surgeon with a specialty in diseases of the eye to make such a certification. Projecting our finding to all applications for placards and plates that DMV approved from July 2013 through June 2016, DMV may have inappropriately approved more than 30,000 applications that contained certifications of disabilities the medical provider was not allowed to make.

DMV provides its staff with direction that, if followed, should prevent approval of applications containing these inappropriate certifications, thereby reducing the risk of violations of eligibility requirements for placards or plates. DMV’s registration manual includes a brief outline of the types of medical providers that may certify specific disability categories. When we asked about the concerns we identified with the applications we reviewed, the registration division chief was unaware that staff were approving applications that were not eligible. He noted that DMV offices have personnel assigned to review and monitor placard applications, among other activities, but he could only offer human error as the reason for the incorrect application approvals. According to him, staff who process placard applications receive some training related to reviewing and processing these applications, and DMV’s training materials discuss eligibility requirements for plates and placards. When DMV does not ensure that only authorized medical providers are certifying disabilities for placards or plates, it increases the risk that an individual without a qualifying disability will receive a placard or plate, making it more difficult for those with qualifying disabilities to find parking.

DMV Does Not Verify the Authenticity of Medical Provider Signatures

When processing placard applications, DMV staff do not review medical provider signatures to determine whether they are legitimate. In general, state law requires that an authorized provider sign the application, unless the applicant’s disability is readily observable and uncontested. State law also requires DMV to examine and determine whether every application filed with it is genuine, and permits DMV to reject any applications that it believes are not. According to the registration division chief, reviewing provider signatures would require DMV staff to either contact each provider or compare the signature on the application to a confirmed copy of the provider’s signature. He explained that because of the volume of applications DMV receives, conducting this type of review would be time consuming and impractical. Although this may be a reasonable explanation for not reviewing every signature during the processing of applications, state law authorizes DMV to annually audit a random sample of applications to verify the authenticity of the certification. For example, DMV could work with the health boards to obtain documentation, such as license renewal applications, of provider signatures for comparison. If DMV identified questionable signatures, it could conduct further investigation, such as contacting the provider to confirm the validity of the signature. However, DMV does not perform such audits, increasing the risk that applicants are forging provider signatures to obtain a placard or plate.  Further, in five of the six cities where we interviewed parking enforcement officials, those officials said that placard misuse was a significant problem, depriving their cities of parking revenue and their disabled residents of being able to park close to their desired destinations.

According to the deputy chief of Investigations, the division does not have software that allows it to randomly select applications from the Vehicle/Vessel Registration Master File (registration system) for review. She explained that Investigations has tried to obtain such programs but found that they were costly. We question the reasonableness of this explanation given that Investigations could sample applications through means other than a software program. For instance, Investigations could periodically use an inexpensive random number generator, such as that available in common spreadsheet software, to select a sample of newly received applications from field offices and the processing unit at DMV headquarters. It could then compare the providers’ signatures to those on documents the health boards maintain.

Without a regular process to review the validity of provider signatures, DMV risks issuing placards to fraudulent applicants. We compared the providers’ signatures included in our sample of 96 original applications approved from July 2013 through June 2016 to documents from the appropriate health boards to determine whether the signatures reasonably matched. We questioned the validity of 17 signatures, or nearly 18 percent. Using the method of projection previously described, this suggests that more than 260,000 applications approved during our audit period may not be valid. In one case, neither the provider’s signature nor the provider’s license number matched the physician named on the application. Although we could not definitively conclude that these applications were submitted fraudulently, the evidence is suggestive of fraudulent intent. Thus, in January 2017 we forwarded our findings to DMV’s Investigations for further review. As of March 2017, Investigations had not completed its work on these cases.

DMV’s Current Processes for Revoking Placards Do Not Prevent Misuse

Inadequate processes at DMV have allowed for misuse of placards. We found that DMV’s process of using the vital records from the California Department of Public Health (Public Health) to remove deceased individuals’ placards from its database has overlooked thousands of likely deceased individuals. Since DMV renews permanent placards every two years indefinitely, if it does not identify individuals who are deceased, it will continually mail new placards to them. Additionally, state law allows placard holders to request an unlimited number of replacement placards if their permanent placard is lost or stolen. From July 2013 through June 2016, two placard holders received more than 20 replacement placards each. Finally, although its responsibilities include protecting DMV’s programs through active fraud detection, DMV has not performed analyses of its data related to placards and plates to identify potential fraud. Because DMV has not been proactive in identifying and addressing these issues, many invalid placards are likely in circulation and being misused.

Because of Limitations in DMV’s Processes, Many Likely Deceased Individuals’ Placards Are in Circulation

State law requires DMV to compare its placard records to Public Health’s Vital Statistics file and withhold any renewal for placard holders that DMV identifies as deceased. State law charges Public Health with the registration of all deaths that occur within the State, which it does by processing death certificates that are originally prepared by funeral homes, coroners, and medical examiners. According to the chief of Public Health’s policy and research branch, and to a contract DMV has with Public Health, Public Health provides to DMV monthly files of deceased individuals. DMV uses the monthly file from Public Health and compares the first name, last name, middle name or initial, and date of birth to information within its registration system that maintains placard holder information. When a match is found, the placard record is updated to reflect that the person is deceased, which prevents the placard from being automatically renewed. Figure 5 displays a flowchart of this process. We found that DMV canceled more than 218,000 individuals’ permanent placards from July 2013 through June 2016 using this matching process. We also have reasonable assurance that DMV appropriately ceased mailing any renewal placards to these individuals.

Figure 5
DMV Deceased Persons Matching Process

Figure 5, a diagram showing how deaths are registered with the California Department of Public Health, how those deaths are transmitted to DMV, and how DMV cancels the placards of deceased placard holders..

Sources: California state law, California State Auditor’s analysis of DMV’s vital statistics matching process, and interviews with officials from Public Health.

However, we performed additional analyses of DMV placard holder data and identified thousands of individuals who are likely deceased yet still have active placards. We compared the names and birth dates of individuals with permanent placards active as of June 30, 2016, to the U.S. Social Security Administration’s Death Master File (master file) and identified nearly 35,000 matches. Although this comparison indicates that DMV likely has not canceled thousands of deceased individuals’ placards, these results are not precise. In particular, the master file is cumulative and includes deceased individuals from across the U.S., increasing the risk that a person with an active placard is matched with someone who has the same name and date of birth, but is alive. In contrast, Public Health’s file includes only individuals whose deaths occurred in California. Further, the master file is composed of data provided by sources beyond those Public Health uses, such as post offices, financial institutions, other states’ vital records agencies, and federal agencies. As a result, the master file is more comprehensive than Public Health’s file in some ways, which may contribute to the higher number of deceased placard holders we identified with active placards. According to the registration division chief, DMV has concerns about using the master file to cancel active placards. For example, he noted that DMV has concerns over misidentifying active placard holders as deceased, given the national nature of the dataset, the presence of common names, and the inclusion of individuals who died many years ago. Because of DMV’s concerns and because of differences between the data within the master file and Public Health’s file, we selected 10 people with active placards who our analysis indicated were deceased. We located obituary records or other information online to corroborate that five of these 10 people were indeed deceased. Despite DMV’s concerns, these results demonstrate that many people should no longer have active placards.

We performed a separate analysis of DMV’s placard holder data and identified another population of individuals with active placards who could be deceased. As of June 30, 2016, nearly 26,000 placard holders with active, permanent placards in DMV’s data were age 100 or older.  This number is significantly higher than the estimated 8,000 individuals that comprised California’s entire centenarian population as of 2014. These results indicate that DMV’s process for canceling placards of deceased individuals is inadequate, given that thousands of individuals age 100 or older who are likely deceased still have active placards. Similar to our previous analysis, we took steps to determine whether our results included any individuals who were indeed alive. We were able to corroborate, based on available evidence, that five of a selection of 10 individuals we identified in this analysis were in fact deceased. We provided a listing of these 10 individuals to DMV, and it was not able to adequately demonstrate whether any of them should have active placards.

These results demonstrate that the process DMV uses to identify deceased individuals and cancel their placards needs improvement, and that DMV needs procedures beyond data matches to ensure it identifies deceased placard holders. Specifically, DMV relies on precise matches based on full name and date of birth, as recorded in its data and as compared to that in Public Health’s file, to identify deceased placard holders. However, we found that DMV’s data did not always include the correct name of the individual; for example, we identified that DMV staff did not correctly enter into its system 5 percent of applicants’ names as reflected on the corresponding applications from July 2013 through June 2016. Such issues prevent DMV from adequately identifying the deceased placard holders because its process requires an exact match between its data and Public Health’s file based on first, last, and middle name or initial.

Further limiting the accuracy of DMV’s process is that it does not require placard applicants to provide proof of their legal name and date of birth. Although state regulations and DMV’s placard application require applicants to use their true full name and date of birth on an application, DMV does not require that they provide any supporting documentation proving this information, such as a driver’s license or birth certificate. According to the registration division chief, DMV lacks authority in state law to refuse applicants who do not provide such verification. We agree that state law does not explicitly require individuals applying for a placard to provide supporting documentation proving their true full name or date of birth on the application. However, we note that state law grants DMV the authority to establish procedures for the issuance and renewal of placards and allows DMV to require additional information or reject an application if DMV is not satisfied with the truth of any statement contained in such application. Therefore, we believe that DMV could have used this authority to establish reasonable supporting documentation requirements proving applicants’ true full names and dates of birth. However, in light of DMV’s interpretation of state law, it may be necessary to revise state law to make this an explicit requirement. Without this requirement, someone intending to commit fraud could fabricate an application with any name or date of birth, as well as a certification of disability, and DMV would approve the application and issue the individual a permanent placard.

DMV’s practice of automatically renewing permanent placards every two years also limits its ability to ensure that it does not mail renewal placards to deceased people. DMV renews permanent placards every two years indefinitely unless it cancels the placards, such as when it identifies deceased placard holders. We reviewed a selection of other states’ renewal requirements and noted that some require individuals to periodically submit a new application and certification of their disability. For instance, Florida and Michigan require placard holders to reapply every four years. If DMV does not identify an individual as deceased, it will automatically continue to send him or her a new placard every two years. Unless the placard is returned to DMV, it will remain in circulation, increasing the risk that someone will fraudulently use the placard and deprive a person with a disability of needed parking. Requiring placard holders to periodically reapply to the program will ensure that DMV will no longer send placards to deceased individuals.

Placards Reported as Lost or Stolen Can Be Subject to Misuse

Placard holders may obtain an unlimited number of replacements for permanent placards.3 State law allows those holding permanent placards to request replacements in the event a placard is lost or stolen–without the need for recertification of eligibility—and it does not limit the number of such replacements. DMV must cancel the existing placard when it provides a replacement; however, when DMV cancels a placard in its system, this does not take the physical placard out of circulation. An unscrupulous person may continue to use such a placard until an enforcement official discovers it is not valid and seizes the placard. We identified nearly 336,000 individuals to whom DMV issued replacements of permanent placards from July 2013 through June 2016, as shown in Table 2. The vast majority were issued only one replacement placard. However, about 2,300 individuals were issued four or more replacement placards during the period from July 2013 through June 2016—representing more than one placard per year. Even more concerning is that nine individuals received 16 or more replacement placards each during those three years, and two of them received more than 20 replacement placards each. Although we cannot conclude that the individuals obtained these replacement placards fraudulently, the high number of replacements suggests a significant risk of fraud. In February 2017, we shared with Investigations the names and placard information for those individuals who received more than 10 replacements over the past three years. As of March 2017, Investigations had not completed its work on these cases.

Table 2
Replacements of Permanent Disabled Person Parking Placards DMV Issued From
July 2013 Through June 2016
Number of Replacements per Individual Number of Individuals With Replacements Total Number of Replacements
1 288,038 288,038
2 38,834 77,668
3 6,401 19,203
Subtotals of 3 or Fewer Replacements 333,273 384,909
4 1,501 6,004
5 437 2,185
6-10 332 2,274
11-15 24 295
16+ 9 175
Subtotals of 4 or More Replacements 2,303 10,933
Totals 35,576 395,842

Source: California State Auditor’s analysis of data obtained from DMV ‘s Vehicle/Vessel Registration Master File.

Note: As of June 30, 2016, there were approximately 2.4 million active, permanent disabled person parking placards.

According to the registration division chief, DMV cannot refuse requests for replacement placards if the requestor already has a valid permanent placard. Holders of active placards may request a replacement placard at any time by submitting an application stating that their old placard was lost or stolen or by surrendering the placard—for example, if it has been mutilated—at a DMV office. The replacement application does not require a new medical certification. Further, according to the registration division chief, DMV has never considered tracking replacement placards. If the Legislature limits the number of replacement placards an individual can receive, DMV will need to determine how to implement such a limit.

Allowing people to receive multiple replacement placards increases the number of permanent placards potentially in use. Unless people surrender found placards or enforcement officials seize placards, those reported as lost or stolen are available for misuse. When enforcement officials seize placards for misuse, state law requires that they report the placard numbers to DMV and that DMV cancel the seized placard. Data DMV provided us regarding confiscated placards that it had canceled suggest that people are misusing placards previously reported as lost or stolen. Additionally, most local parking enforcement officials we spoke to said that they generally look for the presence of a placard and an expiration date, but they do not routinely, if at all, verify whether the placards have been reported as lost or stolen. According to DMV’s records, enforcement officials submitted about 3,500 seized placards to DMV in 2016—which DMV canceled—with almost 12 percent recorded as invalid because they were lost, stolen, or otherwise replaced. This indicates that people are misusing placards that had been reported as lost or stolen.

Further, we performed a visual survey of vehicles displaying placards along six blocks in downtown Sacramento during a weekday in January 2017. Of the 69 parked cars we observed, 37 had placards or plates, and one of those had been canceled after being reported as stolen and thus was being misused. It is reasonable to conclude that some people are fraudulently using canceled placards when parking their vehicles in order to take advantage of free or convenient parking. Without limits on the number of permanent placard replacements someone may request, DMV risks issuing many more additional placards than necessary and reducing the parking available to people with disabilities who are using their placards appropriately. We address DMV’s ability to use its data to identify individuals who are potentially misusing replacements in the next section and the potential to improve enforcement of this misuse in Chapter 2.

DMV’s Investigations Unit Has Missed the Opportunity to Identify Potential Fraud by Analyzing Data on Placard Applications

Investigations does not analyze placard data, which could reveal potentially fraudulent activity. DMV’s registration system contains placard holder information, including name, date of birth, address, and the certifying medical provider’s license number. Because Investigations’ responsibilities include protecting DMV’s programs through active fraud detection, we expected it to proactively and periodically review placard application data to identify potential fraud. Specifically, if it regularly reviewed these data, Investigations could identify people who have multiple active placards, people with multiple replacement placards, or medical providers who certify disabilities for an abnormally large number of placard applications. However, Investigations does not conduct such reviews.

By not analyzing data on placard applications, DMV allows the largest perpetrators of placard fraud to go undetected. As discussed earlier, in our review of data, we found nine individuals who each obtained 16 or more replacement placards from July 2013 through June 2016, including two who obtained more than 20 each. In addition, we identified about 8,000 individuals who had two or more active permanent placards as of June 30, 2016. Three people had more than three, including one who had 12. DMV has a system control that notifies its staff if a person submitting an original application might also have an existing placard by identifying placard holders with the same first three letters of the applicant’s last name and date of birth. However, because multiple individuals could share the first three letters of a last name and date of birth, DMV allows staff to override this control. Further, we found that some people submitted multiple original applications, even though DMV’s records indicate they already had an active placard. We reviewed placard applications DMV received from six people who already had one or more active placards and determined that, in each case, these people submitted multiple original applications. According to the registration division chief, some people may be submitting the wrong form when they want to change their address or request a replacement. These duplicates represent significantly less than 1 percent of all permanent placards active as of June 30, 2016. Nevertheless, according to the registration division chief, while DMV has not taken steps to identify and reduce such instances of multiple placards in the past, it is now looking at the practice to determine what actions might be appropriate in extreme cases. If DMV is not taking steps to detect this type of activity, people can apply for and obtain multiple placards with little risk of being caught. In February 2017, we submitted the names and associated placard numbers for people with two or more active placards to the deputy chief of Investigations and to the registration division chief. As of March 2017, Investigations had not completed work on this information.

Additionally, DMV’s database is missing a significant number of medical provider license numbers. A provider certifying a disability on a placard or plate application must include his or her medical license number, and DMV protocol requires that its staff input this license number into its registration system when issuing plates or placards. We analyzed the records of more than 1.4 million original placard and plate applications DMV approved from July 2013 through June 2016, and found that DMV staff did not enter medical provider license numbers in its registration system for more than 194,000, or roughly 13 percent, of these applications.4 Further, DMV staff did not enter the provider license number for 10 percent of the applications in our representative sample. The registration division chief noted that some records missing provider license numbers may occur when an applicant’s disability is due to loss of one or both lower extremities or both hands. In cases for which the permanent disability is readily observable and uncontested, DMV staff may certify the disability on the application. However, we found no such applications that were certified by DMV staff in our representative sample from this period and thus conclude that most, if not all, of the more than 194,000 records should have included the provider license number. The registration division chief presumed that the missing provider license numbers occurred because staff failed to input this information into registration system.

Without consistent entry of the provider license number, DMV is missing an opportunity to determine whether certain types of providers, or certain individual providers, are certifying disabilities on an abnormally high number of applications. In fact, according to a DMV press release in July 2014, Investigations started Operation Blue Zone, which resulted in the arrest of three suspects on felony charges, in response to a complaint by one of DMV’s field office staff members who identified a high volume of certifications from a single provider. However, Operation Blue Zone was the result of staff observation and not based on any data analysis that DMV performed.

When asked why Investigations does not analyze placard data, the deputy chief explained that it does not have a program that allows it to do so. She stated that in the past, Investigations pursued acquiring a data analytics program but found that the programs were too costly. However, DMV’s chief of its internal audits division (internal audits) noted that internal audits recently acquired a program to extract data from the registration system. He told us that internal audits is willing to use this program to provide Investigations with periodic data extracts, which Investigations can use to analyze placard data. When we informed Investigations of internal audits’ software and asked why Investigations has not previously coordinated with internal audits, the deputy chief said that Investigations was unaware that internal audits had a data analytics program. After we spoke with Investigations and internal audits, Investigations initiated the process of obtaining a data extract for analysis. Further, the registration division chief noted that the registration division recently acquired and installed an analytics tool, which will allow it to examine placard records and identify unusual patterns or outliers. As of March 2017, the registration division chief expected the tool to be in place by the end of the month. The deputy chief of Investigations indicated that she plans to work with the registration division to use the new tool to identify potential fraud indicators. Once DMV begins regularly analyzing its data, it will be able to more effectively identify fraudulent activity and monitor the placard program.



To increase DMV oversight of applications for placards or plates, the Legislature should modify current law to require DMV to conduct at least quarterly audits of a selection of applications for disabled placards or plates and to seek the health boards’ cooperation in doing so.

To better align the placard program with the needs of Californians with disabilities, the Legislature should amend state law to include podiatrists on the list of medical providers approved in state law to certify applications for disabilities related to their specialty.

To assist DMV in more accurately identifying deceased individuals with active permanent placards, the Legislature should amend state law to require DMV to use the U.S. Social Security Administration’s Death Master File to inform its efforts to identify and cancel deceased individuals’ placards.

To assist DMV in identifying deceased placard holders, the Legislature should require that all individuals with permanent placards reapply every four years.

To assist DMV in identifying deceased placard holders, the Legislature should require that all who apply for a placard or a plate include their full legal name and date of birth, and provide satisfactory proof of this information at the time of application.

To reduce the risk of placard misuse, the Legislature should limit to no more than two the number of replacements of permanent placards an individual may obtain during the two‑year placard renewal period. The Legislature should require that those desiring replacements beyond that limit reapply and submit new certifications of disability.


To reduce the risk of fraudulent applications, by September 2017 DMV should seek interagency agreements with the health boards responsible for licensing providers authorized to certify disabilities on placard applications. The agreements should include, but not be limited to, the following:

•   A review by medical experts of a sample of placard applications each quarter to ensure that the disability certifications meet state requirements. For any application that does not meet state requirements, DMV should require that the applicant and his or her provider submit the information needed so that the application meets state requirements. DMV should cancel the placards of those who do not respond within 90 days.

•   A process for the health boards to develop guidance for medical providers related to how to meet state requirements.

•   A process for obtaining copies of provider signatures and routinely comparing the signatures with those on a sample of placard applications. Investigations should confirm questionable signatures with providers.

To help ensure that DMV approves only those applications that qualify for the placard program as specified in state law, by September 2017 and annually thereafter, DMV should provide additional direction and training to its staff that addresses the following program requirements:

•   The types of medical providers that may certify qualifying disabilities.

•   The disability categories each type of medical provider may certify.

•   The legibility of medical provider certifications.

•   The entry of medical provider numbers into its registration system.

To identify potentially fraudulent applications, beginning immediately and quarterly thereafter, DMV Investigations should obtain placard application data from its registration system and analyze those data. At a minimum, this analysis should include a review of the following:

•   Individuals who have been issued multiple active placards.

•   Individuals who apply for an excessive number of replacement placards.

•   Providers who certify an abnormally large number of placard applications.

•   Individuals over 100 years of age with active placards.


Chapter 2


The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) can improve its enforcement efforts related to misuse of disabled person parking placards (placards) or disabled person or disabled veteran license plates (plates), and it can improve the effectiveness of its enforcement through better public outreach. Based on the experience of both DMV and local parking enforcement, the most common type of placard misuse is one person using another person’s valid placard. DMV’s Investigations Unit (Investigations) conducts organized enforcement operations—known as sting operations—to catch people misusing placards in this manner; however, it has not established specific expectations for the frequency of such operations. We found that for the six sting operations we reviewed, the number of operations varied by district office, ranging from one to 18 over our three‑year audit period from July 2013 through June 2016. Further, while the stings DMV conducts are effective at catching misuse, DMV generally does not publicize the results through the media, limiting the stings’ effectiveness as a deterrent for this type of abuse. Also, at the local level, we spoke to parking enforcement officials in six cities and they stated they lack immediate access to placard information that could help them enforce the law. Further, the majority said they would like to work more closely with DMV, including receiving training to help their local enforcement officials detect and deter placard misuse. Until DMV establishes reasonable expectations for consistently taking enforcement actions to prevent placard abuse and improves local enforcement officials’ access to information and training, DMV’s ability to detect and deter placard fraud will be limited.

DMV’s Placard Enforcement Activities Need Expanding, and It Could Help Deter Placard Misuse by Publicizing the Results of Its Investigations

The rate of placard misuse is significant. Investigations’ district offices conducted 270 sting operations from July 2013 through June 2016. During a sting operation, an investigator observes someone using a placard to park for free or in a space designated for people with disabilities, asks the person whether the placard legally belongs to him or her, and confirms this information using DMV’s registration system. We reviewed the results for six of DMV’s sting operations conducted from July 2013 through June 2016 at a variety of locations including shopping centers, a college campus, downtown Sacramento, and a stadium that hosts professional sporting events. During those activities, investigators made contact with 518 people whose vehicles displayed a placard and found that 78 of them, or about 15 percent, were misusing the placard. The rate of misuse was higher in two of the three sting operations conducted at locations requiring payment for parking—39 percent at a college campus and 50 percent in downtown Sacramento. These higher rates were consistent with the rate that the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) identified during its 2016 sting operations. In 2016 LADOT reported that it conducted 206 sting operations, which it refers to as compliance checks, and found that about 42 percent of the individuals they contacted were misusing placards.

According to DMV’s deputy chief of Investigations and parking enforcement officials from six cities, the most common form of placard misuse they encounter involves someone using another person’s valid placard. We reviewed 38 cases of placard misuse that originated from six of DMV’s sting operations and found that in 34 cases, the person cited was using an active placard that belonged to someone else. In the remaining cases, three were using expired placards and one was using a placard that had been reported as lost or stolen. The deputy chief said that to apprehend someone fraudulently using someone else’s valid placard, a DMV investigator must approach a person using a placard to confirm the placard’s validity.

Although the sting operations are effective, DMV has not established specific expectations for the number of sting operations it conducts of placard misuse. According to the deputy chief of Investigations, some district offices set their own goals for stings, but DMV does not have a policy or goal regarding the number of sting operations that its district offices must conduct. We reviewed the operations that six district offices conducted during fiscal years 2013–14 through 2015–16 and found that the number of operations varied by district office, ranging from one to 18 over the three‑year period. The deputy chief of Investigations said that the management for two of these six district offices—Fresno and Sacramento—established an expectation of one placard misuse sting operation per month for fiscal years 2014–15 and 2015–16. Fresno and Sacramento actually conducted 14 and 18 sting operations respectively from fiscal years 2013–14 through 2015–16, which is less than the stated goal but significantly more than the other district offices we reviewed. For example, the Vallejo district office, which did not have a goal during that time, conducted only one sting operation during the three years. By not setting goals for the number of sting operations it expects its district offices to conduct, DMV has missed the opportunity to routinely identify placard misuse.

Investigations indicated that because of competing priorities, it does not regularly conduct sting operations. The deputy chief of Investigations explained that investigators handle numerous types of cases, many of which, such as identify theft, are more serious than placard misuse and that district offices do not perform more sting operations because of other pressing priorities.  For example, she stated that in fiscal year 2015–16, Investigations was focused on cases surrounding implementation of new legislation extending driving privileges to undocumented residents: during that time, two of the offices we reviewed—Los Angeles Metro and Vallejo—had heavy workloads for cases regarding this issue, and for that reason Investigations did not expect the Vallejo office to conduct any placard sting operations that year. However, the prevalence of placard misuse necessitates regular enforcement activity, especially in areas with heavy abuse. For example, we expected that the Brisbane district office, which has the city of San Francisco within its jurisdiction, would have conducted more sting operations because the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) has reported, based on data it has gathered along with its enforcement activities, that fraudulent placard use is a significant problem in the city. However, that office conducted only two sting operations during the three years we reviewed. Although Investigations may have higher‑priority cases, by not conducting regular sting operations, Investigations is limited in its ability to detect placard misuse.

DMV is also missing an opportunity to leverage the results of the sting operations it does conduct to possibly deter those who would otherwise misuse placards. The sting operations it conducts are effective—in each of the six sting operations we reviewed, investigators contacted an average of 86 people and issued an average of 11 citations and two warnings per operation, representing an average misuse rate of about 15 percent. However, from fiscal years 2013–14 through 2015–16, Investigations publicized the results of only one sting operation, a statewide operation on a day in 2013 when investigators issued more than 240 citations. According to the deputy chief of Investigations, DMV has only rarely publicized the results of its sting operations because it does not believe that the press is interested in publishing them. However, we disagree. Around the time when the Joint Legislative Audit Committee approved this audit in May 2016, several newspapers and other media reported throughout the state on placard misuse or on the approval of this audit. After we brought our concern to DMV’s attention, it issued a press release regarding a sting operation in March 2017 in downtown Sacramento, in the same area where we performed the visual survey of vehicles displaying placards that we discuss in Chapter 1. According to DMV, 15 percent of the people it contacted were misusing placards. Several news organizations covered the outcome of the operation.

Further, five of the six cities’ parking enforcement officials we interviewed agreed that placard misuse was a significant problem, depriving their cities of parking revenue and their disabled residents of being able to park close to their desired destinations. The senior traffic supervisor for LADOT stated that in some places the majority of cars parked on the street display a placard, purportedly because of placard abuse. The penalties for placard misuse are high. Unlike other traffic infractions, such as running a red light or parking next to a fire hydrant, someone misusing a placard could be charged with a misdemeanor crime, potentially resulting in a base fine of up to $1,000, additional civil penalties of $1,500, and up to six months in jail. Thus, publicizing these penalties and the results of DMV’s sting operations could increase awareness of the penalties for placard misuse and deter people from fraudulently using placards.

Placard abuse harms the disabled community, businesses, and municipalities. When nondisabled individuals misuse placards, they make it more difficult for people with disabilities to find parking close to their desired destinations. If people misusing placards occupy spaces designated for people with disabilities and metered spaces, people with disabilities must park farther from their destinations or may not have access to them at all, causing unnecessary hardship. Placard misuse therefore undermines the purpose of the disabled person parking placard program, which the Legislature implemented, in part, to improve access for people with disabilities. In addition, businesses are affected when people misuse placards as it reduces turnover in front of or near their storefronts. The parking services manager of the city of Sacramento stated that he receives complaints from businesses alleging that people misusing placards park all day, taking up spaces that their customers could use.

Finally, misuse hurts municipalities by reducing the parking revenues they collect. Because placard holders are not required to pay meter fees, the value of a placard can be significant, especially in areas where parking is expensive. For example, according to a report it released in November 2014, San Francisco’s city services auditor estimated that in certain downtown areas of San Francisco a placard could be worth $14,000 of savings a year on parking fees. This represents significant lost revenue for the city. In its November 2014 report, the city services auditor estimated that the city did not collect $22.7 million in parking fee revenue in fiscal year 2012–13 because of people parking for free with disabled placards or plates. A portion of those people likely misused the parking benefit. If we apply the 15 percent rate of misuse we identified when reviewing DMV’s enforcement activities, the city missed out on about $3.4 million in annual parking revenue. However, if the actual misuse rate was closer to the 42 percent misuse rate in Los Angeles discussed earlier, San Francisco may have missed out on about $9.5 million.

Parking placards are so valuable that there is a black market for them. According to the deputy chief of Investigations, Investigations regularly receives and investigates reports of placards for sale online. In fact, after spending roughly an hour online in February 2017, we found and reported to DMV three placards for sale—one had expired, another belonged to a deceased individual, and the seller of the third appeared to intentionally hide the placard number. We shared this information with Investigations, and as of March 2017 they had not completed an investigation into the placards for sale.

Lack of Training and Current Policies May Limit Complaints of Placard Misuse That DMV’s Investigations Unit Receives and Impede Its Ability to Monitor the Effectiveness of Its Investigations

DMV staff who are responsible for processing applications for disabled placards do not receive training on fraud detection, and Investigations has inadequate policies that hinder its ability to receive complaints from the public and track investigations. Two DMV units process disabled placard applications: staff in DMV’s field offices located statewide process applications submitted in person, and the Special Processing Unit (processing unit) at DMV’s headquarters in Sacramento processes those applications DMV receives by mail. Because state law requires DMV to examine and determine the genuineness and regularity of every placard application, we expected that DMV would be training these employees on how to identify potential fraud in placard applications. However, according to DMV’s training manager, DMV provides field office staff with only one fraud‑related training, which is not specific to disabled placards; that training is focused instead on identifying fraud in identity documents, such as driver’s licenses. As noted in Chapter 1, DMV does not require applicants to provide documentation of their identity when they submit their placard applications. Although the training manager asserted that some of the fraud concepts covered in the training could be applied to placard applications, this training alone does not equip field office staff to identify the types of fraud most likely to be encountered in the applications, such as forged or false medical provider information.

Further, DMV does not provide any fraud training to the staff working at headquarters in its processing unit. According to the former program manager who oversaw that unit, it processes between 300 and 500 placard applications each day, and given this volume, she stated that staff would notice if something were wrong with a particular placard application. If this were the case, however, we likely would not have found the frequency in the occurrence of the issues described in Chapter 1 related to applications containing illegible disability descriptions or certifications of disabilities the medical providers were not authorized to make.  If the employees who process placard applications do not receive training on how to identify potential fraud indicators within those applications, it is unlikely that they will be able to do so or will know to look for signs of fraud. The deputy chief of Investigations stated that training on the specific types of fraud in a placard application could include being aware of when a particular field office receives several applications certified by the same medical provider, identifying when a provider’s address is suspiciously far from the applicant’s address, and observing whether the provider’s handwriting appears to be the same as the applicant’s handwriting. Without such training, DMV lacks assurance that staff have the knowledge necessary to identify and report questionable applications.

In addition to providing training for DMV staff who process placard applications, Investigations could make it easier for the public to submit complaints regarding placard misuse. Currently, Investigations’ complaint policy requires complainants to submit all complaints by mail, using a standardized hard‑copy complaint form, to one of Investigations’ district offices. Complainants can either go online to print the form or, according to the deputy chief of Investigations, pick one up from their local DMV field office. Instructions on the form direct the complainant to mail the completed form to the DMV Investigations district office closest to the location of the incident; these instructions also state that this is the only way to submit a complaint to DMV. However, according to the deputy chief of Investigations, DMV does accept complaints submitted in other ways. She explained that if someone leaves a complaint form at a local field office, it will be forwarded to the appropriate Investigations district office. Further, she stated that although it is not DMV’s policy to accept complaints by telephone, investigators always accept such complaints from law enforcement and many investigators accept telephone complaints from the public, although it is likely that not all do so. DMV does not have an online option or process for the public to file complaints regarding placard misuse.

Although not consistently followed, this policy makes reporting potential placard fraud and abuse unnecessarily burdensome for the public. Requiring complainants to print, complete, and mail in a complaint form may discourage the submission of valid complaints. We reviewed DMV’s placard‑related investigations from July 2013 through June 2016 and found that complaints DMV received from members of the public comprised only about 7 percent of the 3,188 investigation cases DMV initiated during that same three‑year period. Without more efficient channels for submitting complaints, DMV risks that placard fraud and abuse will go unreported. However, Investigations has not simplified its process for reporting complaints of placard misuse. When we brought this issue to DMV’s attention, the deputy chief of Investigations said that it is open to changing its policy to allow people to make complaints regarding placard misuse via telephone and online, and she agreed that doing so would be beneficial because it could increase the number of complaints received from the public. She also believed that Investigations would be able to handle any associated increase in complaints.

In addition to limiting the complaints it receives, Investigations’ process prevents it from monitoring how quickly investigators complete their cases. According to the deputy chief of Investigations, DMV requires its investigators to leave cases open in the investigations database until a court adjudicates the case. We expected that Investigations would regularly review the length of time that placard abuse cases had been open to ensure that investigators are completing their investigations within a reasonable time frame. However, DMV’s process limits its ability to do so. Specifically, the deputy chief of Investigations stated that DMV requires its investigators to regularly check with the court to determine whether the court has adjudicated the case and then enter the court disposition into the database before closing the case. Tracking the court’s adjudication is beneficial; however, because the database reflects the date that the investigator entered the court disposition, which can be days or even weeks after the disposition, rather than the date the investigator completed the investigation, Investigations cannot determine the amount of time investigators are taking to complete their work. As a result, Investigations cannot ensure that investigators are promptly addressing complaints of placard fraud and abuse. The deputy chief of Investigations again acknowledged that Investigations is open to changing its process, stating that doing so would better allow the unit to monitor the time it takes investigators to close cases.

Further, investigators do not consistently follow up with the courts to determine case outcomes. As of August 2016, according to data DMV provided from its investigations database, 644 (21 percent) of the 3,082 cases initiated from July 2013 through June 2016 were still open, some for more than two years. We reviewed 10 of the open cases and found that in nine of them, the investigations were complete but the investigator had not yet obtained a court disposition to close the cases, even though, according to the deputy chief of Investigations, the courts had likely adjudicated the cases based on the length of time the cases had been open. The deputy chief of Investigations said the tenth case was still open. She explained that supervisors are supposed to monitor how long cases have been open and follow up with their investigators to ensure that they enter case adjudication information when it becomes available and then close the cases.

Even when investigators enter the case outcome, inconsistencies in the way they do so impede Investigations’ ability to monitor the results of its investigations. When closing a case in the database, investigators select from a variety of codes that indicate the outcome of the case, and Investigations expects its investigators to use the appropriate codes when doing so. However, in our review of the database, we found the investigators’ use of the codes lacked uniformity. For example, the deputy chief of Investigations confirmed that investigators used the codes for “no jurisdiction,” “investigative threshold not met,” “insufficient evidence,” and “no action warranted” interchangeably. Therefore, for the cases where investigators applied these codes, we were unable to determine by reviewing the data the specific reasons Investigations closed the cases. According to the deputy chief, Investigations does not have a manual that describes how investigators should use status codes, but she acknowledged that such a manual could help establish consistency. She also stated that investigators do not consistently use the codes and do not regularly check with the courts to obtain case adjudications because they need more concrete direction and training. She explained that in April 2017, Investigations would begin retraining its investigators on following up with the courts and the proper use of the status codes.  If DMV does not obtain the outcomes for its cases or accurately enter them into its system, it cannot effectively use its database to monitor its investigations to ensure that they are timely and are achieving the desired results.

DMV Has Not Ensured That Parking Enforcement Agencies Have Direct Access to Placard Records or Needed Training Regarding Effective Enforcement, Although This Could Help Mitigate Placard Misuse

Local parking enforcement’s lack of immediate access to DMV’s placard information prevents these officials from efficiently identifying and seizing misused placards. As we discussed previously, the most common form of placard misuse is one person using another’s active placard, and identifying that type of misuse typically requires a sting operation. However, officials can identify another type of misuse—using an invalid placard, such as one reported lost or stolen, or using one that belongs to a deceased individual—by determining whether the placard is valid from DMV’s records. We reviewed DMV’s records to identify the reasons that enforcement officials had seized placards, and we found that of the roughly 3,500 placards seized for misuse and submitted to DMV for cancellation during 2016, about 570, or 16 percent, of the placards were invalid because they had been reported lost or stolen, they belonged to a deceased placard holder, or they had been replaced. Thus, this type of misuse is not uncommon. If officials can promptly access DMV’s placard information, the likelihood is greater that they will catch and cite people using invalid placards.

The time it takes parking enforcement to obtain placard information discourages them from determining whether placards are valid. Parking enforcement officials in the six cities we contacted noted that they have the primary responsibility for enforcing placard laws, rather than law enforcement officials such as the local police. However, parking enforcement officials do not have immediate access to DMV’s placard information because they are not sworn peace officers. According to the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS) administration section at the Department of Justice, with proper statutory authorization parking enforcement could obtain indirect access to CLETS information by calling and requesting the information from a dispatcher. However, this process is time consuming, and parking enforcement officials in four of the six cities we contacted reported that they typically do not contact a dispatcher to verify whether placard numbers are valid. Officials from two cities, Sacramento and San Francisco, reported that they have designated one parking enforcement official or more to patrol for placard misuse, but because verifying the validity of placards is time consuming, they explained that their remaining parking enforcement officials generally do not do so. Lack of prompt access to DMV’s placard information hinders the ability of these officials to identify invalid placards that are in fraudulent use.

Although DMV offers a variety of channels for law enforcement and parking enforcement to obtain placard information, only some provide immediate information. State law requires DMV to provide law enforcement and parking enforcement with access to its placard information, and DMV provides this access in several ways. However, the speed at which those agencies can obtain the information through each channel varies. For example, law enforcement and parking enforcement can request hard‑copy placard records through the mail, but DMV’s stated processing time for such requests is generally seven to 10 business days. Although DMV’s law enforcement call center provides law enforcement and parking enforcement with quicker access to placard information, this access is also not timely enough for those officials who need to immediately access information for multiple vehicles, such as a row of vehicles parked on a busy metered street. We reviewed DMV’s call records from August 2015 through August 2016 and found that the average wait time for callers was about three minutes. If a parking enforcement official encountered a block with 10 vehicles displaying placards and wanted to check the validity of those placards, the official would have to either repeatedly contact the call center and wait an average of three minutes for each vehicle, or keep the DMV representative on the phone while the official checked each vehicle. Three of the largest parking enforcement agencies we interviewed confirmed this would be too time consuming to be practical. Additionally, the DMV call center responds to requests from law enforcement, government agencies, and the media regarding all vehicle registration inquiries, not just those related to placards. The call center manager confirmed that repeated calls for placard information would strain the center’s resources and increase wait times. Although we found three minutes to be a reasonable wait time for the call center in general, it does not provide fast enough access for parking enforcement officials to use when on patrol.

The two remaining channels for access to placard information afford users immediate access. However, parking enforcement cannot obtain direct access to either channel. Specifically, law enforcement, as sworn peace officers, can directly access DMV vehicle registration information, including placard information, using CLETS, but parking enforcement are not sworn peace officers, and as a result cannot directly access CLETS. With proper authorization, a parking enforcement agency could obtain CLETS information indirectly, for example by calling a law enforcement dispatcher with CLETS access. However, according to the CLETS administration section, under no circumstances could a parking enforcement agency obtain mobile access to CLETS, such as through handheld devices or terminals in their vehicles.

DMV also provides access to its registration system through its own data communications system, which contains the same placard information that is accessible through CLETS. However, according to the program manager in DMV’s Information Services Branch, this access is expensive because of the security measures and protocols that must be in place given the sensitivity of the data. As a result, she explained that typically only large agencies, such as the State Board of Equalization and the Franchise Tax Board, obtain this type of access to DMV records.

Nevertheless, DMV may have an opportunity to create and maintain a database for parking enforcement officials to immediately access the validity of placards. Given the limitations that parking enforcement faces in accessing placard information, we asked about the feasibility of DMV developing its own database containing only the information necessary to identify valid placards. According to the registration division chief, DMV could create and maintain a database containing all canceled and inactive placards, and update that database regularly. However, he explained that DMV has never considered creating such a database and, therefore, does not have an estimate of the amount of time or money it would take to create and maintain such a database. All six parking enforcement officials we spoke to indicated that if DMV developed such an application, their agencies would use that technology.

In addition to more timely access to placard information, the majority of parking enforcement officials we interviewed wanted more guidance and training from Investigations, but DMV has not provided these resources because it was unaware of the demand for them. As previously noted, officials from each of the six cities we interviewed explained that parking enforcement, not law enforcement, bears primary responsibility for upholding placard laws. We expected to find that Investigations, as a subject matter expert, would provide some guidance and training to parking enforcement agencies to aid their efforts to effectively identify and prevent placard misuse. According to the deputy chief of Investigations, DMV has provided training to parking enforcement when they have requested it, but this has been limited. However, DMV was unable to produce evidence demonstrating that it had provided this training. She said that DMV was unaware that parking enforcement agencies wanted information and training, and has instead focused on providing outreach and training on placard abuse to law enforcement agencies. However, local parking enforcement, not law enforcement, is the most appropriate audience for such training. By educating local parking enforcement agencies on strategies for addressing placard abuse, Investigations could help to improve local enforcement efforts, which could help deter misuse and free up parking for those with disabilities. Such information and training could include, for example, content on the proper conduct of a sting operation and trends in placard misuse. The deputy chief of Investigations agreed that it would be beneficial to reach out to parking enforcement agencies to educate them about parking placard enforcement and DMV investigations operations and said that Investigations would begin doing so.

One way DMV could assist local parking enforcement officials would be to inform them of the ability to increase revenue for enforcement. State law allows local governments to pass ordinances to increase penalties for placard misuse by $100 per citation, as long as the localities use the revenue generated to increase enforcement efforts related to placards or to parking designated for people with disabilities. For example, localities could spend more money on staff or technology specifically for placard enforcement. Officials at all six cities stated that they do not make use of this provision in state law, and most were not aware of the provision.

Without making use of this provision, the cities are missing out on revenue to increase placard enforcement. For example, an LADOT senior traffic supervisor reported that the city issued almost 1,900 citations in 2016. If Los Angeles increased its placard misuse penalty by the additional $100, it might have raised nearly $190,000 in additional revenue for placard enforcement. In addition, increasing penalties for placard misuse could increase the deterrent effect those penalties have on people who misuse placards. As part of its guidance to local parking enforcement officials, DMV could inform them of the ability to increase revenue from citations issued for placard misuse.

DMV Did Not Track When It Canceled Misused Placards That Enforcement Officials Have Seized

DMV does not have procedures in place to ensure that enforcement officials submit information regarding seized placards or to ensure that it is canceling such placards in a timely manner. When enforcement officials seize placards, state law requires the agencies to notify DMV of the seized placard numbers. State law then requires DMV to cancel the seized placards. However, there is no statutory time frame for canceling seized placards, nor is there a deadline by which these agencies must notify DMV of the seized placard numbers. Nevertheless, timeliness is important. Until DMV cancels a placard in its registration system, the holder may report that placard as lost or stolen and receive a new one without the need for a new medical certification. Five of the six local enforcement agencies we contacted provided us with 44 placard numbers they recently seized because of misuse and sent to DMV for cancellation. DMV canceled 43 of them. In one instance, DMV did not receive the placard number or cancel the placard, and the holder was able to receive a replacement. The enforcement officials send only the seized placard numbers to DMV for cancellation; once DMV cancels the placards, the local enforcement agency is expected to destroy the physical placards.

Until very recently, DMV did not track how long it takes to cancel a seized placard. According to desk procedures provided to DMV staff, cel seized DMV must canplacards within 24 hours of receipt. We reviewed 15 placard numbers DMV had received from local enforcement agencies from January 2015, the earliest date that DMV had such records available, through September 2016. In all 15 cases DMV had canceled them; however, DMV staff entered the date the individual was cited by the enforcement officials as the cancellation date, preventing us from determining whether DMV canceled them within 24 hours. According to the registration division chief, staff record the citation date as the cancellation date so activity on the record can clearly be identified as having occurred after the date enforcement officials seized the placard for misuse, which can be useful for them or others to investigate the individual misusing the placard. After we brought this to DMV’s attention in March 2017, the chief of the Registration Services Branch (registration branch chief) explained that, beginning immediately, staff would track the date placards were canceled in a spreadsheet separate from DMV’s registration database.

Delays by local enforcement officials and confusion over where to send placard cancellations compound the lack of timely cancellation. Of the 15 cancellations we reviewed, in four instances DMV recorded that it received the cancellation requests more than 30 days after the placard holders had been cited for misuse. According to a training schedule provided by DMV, it sporadically provides to enforcement officials training materials that convey the need for timely submission of placard cancellation requests.

Further, DMV receives cancellation requests by mail, fax, or email, but there has been confusion over where to send the requests. For example, the assistant director of the enforcement division at SFMTA stated that staff were not informed when the unit that processes cancellation requests moved, and the agency continued for several months to send placard cancellation requests to the wrong fax number. Also, we observed one instance where Santa Cruz sent a cancellation request for a placard and DMV never received it. According to the registration branch chief, the entity sent the request for cancellation to the wrong address. DMV maintains two fax numbers to which local enforcement agencies may send cancellation requests, but one is not located within the unit processing the requests. According to the registration branch chief, DMV wanted to keep both lines active in case a local entity did not know about the new fax number. Nevertheless, this requires a staff person to remember to go to another unit on another floor of the building to periodically check the fax machine. Finally, DMV informed us that email requests for cancellations go to specific individuals. This could cause delays in canceling placards if these individuals choose to leave their employment with DMV or are on extended leave. We asked DMV whether it had considered maintaining dedicated fax numbers and email addresses for placard cancellations. The registration division chief stated that DMV would consider implementing such tools. Further, he stated that DMV maintains an email distribution list of enforcement officials with which DMV has contact and that it could use to communicate such information. Without regular communication with local enforcement agencies regarding the need for timeliness in submitting cancellation requests or where to send such requests, DMV risks allowing individuals caught misusing placards to obtain a replacement instead of having to apply for a new placard and submit a new certification of disability.

DMV Could Take Additional Steps to Mitigate Placard Misuse

To further combat misuse, DMV could take steps to make it easier to return placards if found or if they are no longer needed and to raise public awareness of the penalties and effects of placard misuse. We reviewed transactions related to 29 placards from DMV’s registration system to identify any data entry errors and found that more than half of the transactions were for placard holders who reported the placard as lost. However, as noted earlier, when DMV cancels a placard in its database, the placard itself remains physically in circulation and anyone can continue to use the canceled, invalid placard. Similarly, when DMV mistakenly renews placards of deceased people, as we discussed in Chapter 1, those placards are in circulation and available for misuse unless returned to DMV. However, DMV does not currently print a return mailing address on placards, making it difficult for those who find lost placards to know where to send them. Federal regulation requires DMV to include certain information on placards, including the International Symbol of Access, but this does not prevent DMV from including a return mailing address. According to its registration division chief, DMV did not identify this as a potential method for reducing placards in circulation, but agreed the idea is feasible.

DMV also does not perform public outreach to raise awareness about the effect that placard misuse has on people with disabilities. Public awareness campaigns are a useful tool for informing people of the consequences of certain unlawful activities. For example, the California Office of Traffic Safety’s It’s Not Worth It campaign warns of the consequences of distracted driving from using cell phones and texting. Additionally, other jurisdictions have developed public awareness campaigns. The state of Colorado’s Advisory Council for Persons with Disabilities has a campaign called Excuses vs. Reasons that, according to its website, was born out of extensive research underscoring the need for more information on the challenges people with disabilities face when attempting to park in designated parking spaces. By using real excuses cited by nondisabled people, the campaign promotes the fact that “No Plates. No Placard. No Parking” is a right all drivers should defend. The city of Phoenix, Arizona, has an outreach effort called the Save Our Space Parking Campaign, which publishes a brochure describing the effects that taking parking from a person with disabilities could have. According to a city representative, the brochures are distributed to local offices that serve people with disabilities. Both of these efforts provide examples of ways to reach out to more people and encourage them to think twice before parking in a designated parking space or misusing a placard that does not belong to them. DMV’s registration division chief told us that a coordinated outreach campaign has not been implemented in the past. After we brought the outreach campaigns of Phoenix and Colorado to DMV’s attention, he stated that DMV will initiate an outreach campaign in the coming fiscal year.



To better deter placard abuse, by September 2017 DMV should establish reasonable goals regarding the number of sting operations each of its district offices should conduct each quarter. If competing priorities require a district office to miss its goal for a given quarter, Investigations should document its justification for missing the goal. Further, Investigations should monitor its district offices’ effectiveness in meeting the quarterly goals.

To help ensure that DMV’s sting operations are an effective deterrent to placard misuse, beginning immediately DMV should regularly publicize the results of all of its sting operations through local and statewide media, on its website, and in materials distributed to the public at its field offices.

To properly equip its employees with the knowledge necessary to identify and report potential fraud indicators in placard applications, DMV should provide employees who process applications with training specific to the types of fraud that can occur in an application. This training should be provided by December 2017 and every other year thereafter.

To encourage reporting of allegations of placard abuse, Investigations should amend its policy to accept complaints by telephone and online by June 2017 and display the instructions for doing so prominently on its website.

To better track the time needed to investigate placard‑related cases, Investigations should immediately require investigators to indicate in Investigations’ database that cases are closed upon concluding the investigation and to continue to track the court’s adjudication of each case.

To better monitor the results of its enforcement operations, Investigations should provide training and guidance to its investigators on how to use and consistently enter case disposition information into its database, and it should train its supervisors to regularly follow up with investigators to ensure that they do so.

To better equip local parking enforcement officials to promptly identify invalid placards, by December 2018 DMV should develop and implement an application, database, or other technology that will allow non‑sworn parking enforcement officials to have immediate access to information on placard status.

To aid local placard enforcement efforts, by September 2017 DMV should develop guidance and training regarding strategies to combat placard misuse and notify local parking enforcement officials that the DMV guidance and training is available. As part of these efforts, DMV should include information on state law related to increasing citation penalties to fund enforcement efforts.

To track its effectiveness at canceling seized placards, DMV should continue its new practice of keeping a record of the date staff take action to cancel a placard and assess whether DMV is meeting its goal of canceling seized placards within 24 hours of receipt.

To provide local enforcement agencies with an effective way to submit placard cancellation requests, DMV should immediately establish a dedicated fax number, a dedicated email address, and a specific mailing address to receive such cancellations. DMV should communicate this information to local parking enforcement by July 2017 and should develop a schedule for communicating this information to local parking enforcement in the future. By July 2017 and periodically thereafter, DMV should inform local parking enforcement of the need to submit information on seized placards quickly in order to prevent the holder or someone else from requesting a replacement placard without having to submit a new medical certification.

To reduce the risk of placard misuse, DMV should update its placards to indicate a return address if found or if the placard holder is deceased. DMV should prepare this update for the permanent placards it will issue in 2019 that will expire in 2021.

To raise public awareness about parking for people with disabilities in California and deter placard misuse, by September 2017 DMV should develop a plan for conducting a public outreach campaign about the effect that placard misuse has on people with disabilities and the penalties for misusing a placard.

We conducted this audit under the authority vested in the California State Auditor by Section 8543
et seq. of the California Government Code and according to generally accepted government auditing
standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate
evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives
specified in the Scope and Methodology section of the report. We believe that the evidence obtained
provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives.

Respectfully submitted,


State Auditor

April 18, 2017

Laura G. Kearney, Audit Principal
John Lewis, MPA
Jim Adams, MPP
Sarah Flower
Amanda Millen, MBA

IT Audits:
Michelle J. Baur, CISA, Audit Principal
Lindsay M. Harris, MBA, CISA
Shauna M. Pellman, MPPA, CIA

Legal Counsel:
Heather Kendrick, Sr. Staff Counsel
For questions regarding the contents of this report, please contact
Margarita Fernández, Chief of Public Affairs, at 916.445.0255.



3 We limited our analysis to permanent placards because they are valid for two years, have a fixed expiration date, and are automatically renewed. Further, temporary placards account for only 4 percent of the total placards and plates active as of June 30, 2016.
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4 We excluded disabled veteran license plates, commercial disabled person license plates, and placards issued to organizations that do not require medical provider license numbers.
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