Why It’s (Sometimes) Illegal to Sleep In Your Car


When it comes to driving tired, the advice is unanimous: don’t.

Though there’s no Federal Law which says you can’t sleep in your car.

Yet in some states, getting some shut-eye while parked is illegal! What gives?

We shouldn’t drive tired, but we also shouldn’t sleep? What should we do.. get out and walk?!

I wanted to understand this better, so I dove into some research. Here’s what I found.

Why Is It Illegal to Sleep In Your Car?

It’s often illegal to sleep in your car for two reasons. First is due to local areas trying to prevent large amounts of homeless people occupying popular areas of the city. Second – it’s often not illegal to sleep. It’s just illegal to park in many public spots for long periods of time.

That’s the summary, anyway.

Obviously, there’s a little more to it than that.

Read on and let’s dive into the details.

When It’s Illegal to Sleep Because of Location

Often, sleeping in your car is not actually illegal. Instead, it’s having your car parked somewhere that is.

Whether that’s too long at a rest stop, in busy parking areas (that have quick turnover), or busy city streets – parking your car there for an extended period of time will often cause issue.

The key point to note is that naps are almost always okay in these situations. It’s having a car parked for 4+ hours where it starts becoming an issue.

When It’s Illegal to Sleep in a Car Altogether

This second issue is a little more serious. In some places, strict laws are brought in that completely prohibit sleeping within a car.

These laws are almost always brought in to combat many people who live out their cars from congregating in one area. Often near the city center, or at public attractions like the beach.

One of the strictest areas is Los Angeles. Due to their homeless problem, LA specifically banned “vehicle dwelling” altogether.

If you’re caught sleeping anywhere, you can face a penalty of up to $75. Though it’s only $25 for a first offence.

What Happens If You’re Caught Sleeping In A Car

It’s important to remember that these laws are deterrents. They’re not life or death, and so you’re not exactly going to be woken up by means of a taser.

I’ve done a lot of reading on this, and I’ve never read about someone having a real issue with the cops about it.

Every time, the officer seems to wake up the car sleeper, ask a question, inform them of the law, and ask them to move on.

It’d take you getting caught multiple before they likely do anything.

Note – I’m not advocating pushing the law and sleeping wherever you want! Just saying that you won’t get thrown in jail if you need to risk sleeping somewhere for your own good.

Where Can You Sleep In A Car?

After all this talk about rules and no-go’s, let’s talk about what we can do.

Here are some areas that are ideal for getting some shut-eye while driving. Keep an eye out for them next time you’re on the road.

  • Private Property. To clear something up – anything done on your own property is up to you. Get as much baby sleep as you want. This also goes for other private properties (provided the owner is aware of you).
  • Rest Stops. A standard rest stop has the clue in the name. These can be good for a nap anywhere from 2 hours to overnight. Make sure to always consult the sign posts around the stop – since the laws change with every state.
  • Truck Stops. Though you may not be in an 18-wheeler, truck stops are generally fine to get some rest in. However, it’s worth checking for any sign posts and consulting with the shop owner if there is one.
  • 24-Hour Stores. The big one here is Walmart. The recommendation for long distance driving is almost always to pull up in a Walmart and get cosy for the night. However, this isn’t always allowed. To make sure you’re okay, give the store manager a ring and clarify with them – just ring the first number available on Google and ask for the manager in charge. Same goes for any other 24-hour stores.
  • You’ll need to pay for the privilege, but a Campground falls under Private Property. With permission from the owner (often through a paid ticket), you can rest until your heart’s content.

Tips for Sleeping in Your Car

Illegal or not, sleeping in a car is a skill of it’s own.

There’s tons of great information out there, including many YouTube videos, dedicated solely to this topic.

Here’s a great one by Katie Carney on YouTube.

Not a video fan? Here’s a few written-down tips:

  1. Turn Off Your Lights. This is a no-brainer, but it’s an easy mistake to make. Make sure your lights and any other battery using equipment is off. Trust me, you don’t want to wake up in your car only to find you need a tow!
  2. Hide Your Belongings. Safety first. Don’t make your car an advert for thieves. Tuck any valuables under clothes or into the glovebox.
  3. Park Carefully. With the tips in the article, you should have no issue finding somewhere good to sleep. It’s important to also not park alone. Where possible, rest up next to other cars and ideally under good lighting (you can always use a sleeping mask). Try to make your car as inconspicuous as possible.
  4. Put Down The Rear Seats. For some reason, people always associate sleeping in a car with cranking back the front seat. This is totally wrong! Instead, drop the back seats down and you have a whole bed back there. Even if it’s pretty uncomfortable. Lay down some clothes or even a sleeping bag and you’ll get a much better rest.

The Wrap Up

Sleep is a massive requirement for anyone getting behind the wheel.

Getting to little sleep will skyrocket your chances of being in a crash. It’s almost the same as driving drunk!

I hope this guide has given you a little clarity about the do’s and don’ts of sleeping in your car, within the eyes of the law.

The bottom line? Naps are almost always fine, and any cop who disturbs you will probably only ask you to move on (aside from maybe LA).

So pull up at that rest stop, park at that Walmart, or stop at a campground. Get that much needed shut-eye, and drive safely towards your end destination.

If this free content has helped, please consider checking out the related articles below! Your time on this site really helps support it.

Thanks for reading, and sleep well.

-Craig

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