In some cases this has led to unpleasant remarks being aimed at legitimate users of the Blue Badge accessible parking spaces. Thirty-five per cent of those questioned said they believed the spaces were only provided for vehicles carrying a wheelchair user.
In fact they are reserved for a wide range of people with mobility problems, including those with less obvious disabilities such as severe sight impairment, heart or lung conditions or a prosthetic limb that make it difficult for them to walk even short distances.
The Welsh Government released the figures as part of its ‘Space Invaders’ campaign to promote the new-style, more secure, Blue Badge and to deter ineligible motorists tempted to abuse the scheme.
An earlier survey across Wales showed that one in ten motorists admitted using the Blue Badge spaces illegally and, in some areas, the figure was as high as one in four.
Another misunderstanding about the scheme was revealed in the survey, with 10% of respondents believing that anyone using the Blue Badge holder’s vehicle could park in the restricted spaces, even if the eligible person was not with them.
The misconceptions about the ‘Blue Badge’ parking system emerged in a survey of 1,009 people conducted for the Welsh Government as part of its drive to encourage greater respect for the parking rights of disabled vehicle users.
Minister for Local Government and Communities, Carl Sargeant said:
“It’s important that fellow motorists understand that the Blue Badge parking scheme exists to help all vehicle users with mobility problems, not just wheelchair users. The survey shows there is a degree of confusion over who is eligible to use these spaces and that can sometimes cause resentment. We’re keen to dispel these misconceptions.”
Julie Thomas, 50, from Rhondda Cynon Taf has faced a lack of understanding from some fellow motorists regarding her use of the Blue Badge spaces. She explained that she has been approached and challenged in the street about her right to park in these spaces. She said:
“In 1987, I was involved in a road traffic accident and had to learn to walk all over again. As a result of the damage, my left leg is over two inches shorter than my right, so I have to wear heel lifts to balance this. My disability is not completely visible to others when I leave my vehicle but it does cause problems with walking.”
Julie, who is information officer for Wales Mobility Trust, added:
“People have asked why I park in the bays. I think it’s important that people understand that we don’t all have visible disabilities.”
“It’s not just about free or discounted parking; it’s also about accessible parking. People should know that Blue Badges are not just for wheelchair users, some of us can walk a short distance but can’t be too far away from our destination.”
The new-style Blue Badges contain additional security features to help the authorities identify improper use and prevent forgeries. The badges are issued free to eligible people in Wales, although users in other parts of the UK have to pay.
As part of the campaign the Welsh Government is also distributing posters to all GP surgeries and health centres to advise people to contact their local authority hotline rather than their family doctor if they want to apply for a Blue Badge. Many assume incorrectly that getting a letter from their GP verifying their mobility problems will secure them a badge.
In Wales there are around 230,000 Blue Badges in use and 2.5 million across the UK. The new-style Blue Badges were introduced in April this year and will be phased in over a three-year period as existing permits fall due for renewal.
Minister for Local Government and Communities Carl Sargeant is expected to make an announcement shortly on extending the Blue Badge eligibility.