Penny Briggs’ parents have been disabled since before she was born. Her mother gets around with a motorized scooter and her father relies on a wheelchair. Accordingly, the family uses a van with a lift to get around, and sometimes when they go out, they find handicapped-parking spaces taken by vehicles that aren’t displaying the recognizable—and required—blue placard in their windshields.
So Briggs, a teacher by trade, has a special perspective when she walks up to a violating vehicle and puts an official city of Asheville citation on its windshield.
Briggs is one of 15 civilian volunteers authorized by the city to cite drivers parked illegally in handicapped spaces. The program, started more than 10 years ago, has lapsed a couple of times but was revived with a training program in January of this year. Since then, says Asheville Parking Enforcement Supervisor James Lee, the group has issued 168 citations.
Circling through the Asheville Mall’s parking lot one afternoon last week, Briggs noted several vehicles properly parked—but a few in handicapped spaces appeared to have no visible authorization. Donning her orange vest and brandishing her stack of citations, she took down a Cadillac’s tag number and description then tucked a ticket under the windshield wiper.
Throughout the parking-enforcement mission, Briggs’ outgoing and friendly disposition suggests that she’s not on a vengeful hunt for violators. Instead, she says, she mainly wants people to know how they are affecting handicapped drivers.
“I do it for my parents,” she says. “It’s frustrating when we go out with my Mom and Dad and are not be able to go anywhere.”
The tickets carry a fine of $250, though many are waived when drivers bring their official handicapped permit to the Parking Enforcement office. Briggs even has the option of voiding tickets if the car’s owner shows up while she’s writing it up. That sort of interaction does happen, she says, and typically the exchanges are civil. “I would much rather educate someone than write them a ticket,” she insists.
But the possibility of confrontation is always there, and if such a situation arises, volunteers are trained to walk away. “We tell them, and reiterate, that we don’t want any confrontation,” says Asheville Police Department Officer Allen Dunlap, who trains the volunteers.
That said, running off a parking-enforcement volunteer won’t get you out of a ticket: Armed with the tag number and vehicle description, the volunteer can pass the information on to Dunlap, who will then mail the citation.
And even if a ticket gets waived, Briggs hopes the experience will leave a lasting impression on those who find that slip of paper waiting when they return to their cars.
“If they have to go through a little ruckus,” she says, “maybe they’ll remember next time.”