There’s a technical and ethical answer.
Drive through any big-box store parking lot in the United States and you’re bound to come across special “Veterans only” parking.
They often say “Veteran Parking only,” or “Reserved for Combat Wounded.” Sometimes there’s a stipulation you need special Veterans DMV plates to use the spot while the Combat Wounded ones imply you need proof of a Purple Heart to use that space.
But can you get in trouble if you use that spot as a regular licensed driver who’s never served without getting in trouble or worse, towed?
The answer is no, you won’t get in trouble if you use veteran parking while not a veteran yourself since it’s not enforceable, but you might get frowned at.
Let me explain.
Why do they have veterans parking?
Veterans parking extends preferential treatment to men and women who’ve served in our armed forces. By reserving closer spots especially for them, it’s both a symbolic and actionable gesture by the company and private parking lot owner that they honor, support, and care for our veterans.
Oftentimes veterans are disabled and, for one reason or another, didn’t apply for ADA issued disabled plates and placards. Since they legally can’t park in designated disabled spots, these “Veterans Only” spots opens up another option for ease of store use during busy operational hours.
Why these signs aren’t enforceable.
Just like “expectant mother parking” or “Spots reserved for pick-up orders only” signs, there are no municipal or state laws that govern these types of parking signs.
Private property parking lot owners can and often do authorize tows or call law enforcement to properly tow or cite a car in violation of private parking lot regulations, but there are, as mentioned, actual codified laws that define that.
In California, for example, there are strict requirements that property owners must follow before they can call a towing company on a car improperly parked.
Shat means signage warning drivers of tows possible with all pertinent information must be displayed, there must be an actual law or spelled out rule that must be broken (parking in disabled spots or parking when it says “For customers only.”) and there’s often a time limit placed for certain situations.
For example, private property owners in California must wait an hour before a non-customer parked car can be towed.
Some “Veterans Parking” signs even have “DMV issued veteran’s plates requested” stipulations printed on them but, even that verbiage is not enforceable.
Regular citizens can easily buy specialized plates “Honoring Veterans,” an exploitable loop-hole regular people with these plates can point to if questioned upon parking.
If you aren’t a Veteran and do use these spots, while property owners and regular folk probably won’t confront you, if you don’t fit into the stereotypical Veteran look (whatever that is…) you might get some dirty looks.
There’s anecdotal evidence that actual veterans don’t even use these reserved parking spots.
“I’m a vet and don’t agree with these signs, besides the wounded warrior, that’s basically disability. I personally think we can park like everyone else.”
Another Veteran on Reddit commented,
I’ve parked in the veteran spot twice at Lowe’s. I was worried the while time that I’d get dirty or suspicious looks, or that some Super Vet was going to approach me to ask about my service and try to out me as a pretender.
The other 40-50 times a year I see a spot like that, I don’t take it. There are more deserving vets than me.
And even if actual veterans use these spots, regular people sometimes don’t believe them. Just this past August, a US Navy service member parked at a “Reserved for Veterans” spot at a North Carolina Lowes returned to their car with a nasty note from someone who didn’t believe she actually served.
Which begs the question, why have Veterans Parking in the first place?
In my opinion there are better ways to serve our Veterans including ensuring our tax dollars are being properly used to effectively run our nations Veterans Affairs hospitals, funding and volunteering for local Veterans organizations (like VFW,) or actually advertising to encourage veterans to apply for open positions at your workplace.