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Jonathon Klein
August 1, 2015

If you’ve ever taken a road trip, you’ve been here. Stuck on the side of the road at 2:47 am, you’ve just passed through Vermont at record-breaking speeds, you’ve been traveling since 6 am the previous day, your trip mates are all already sound asleep and snoring, and the six pack of 5-Hour Energy you slammed twenty minutes ago isn’t doing bupkis.

You don’t want to fork over the cash for a motel room, so you decide to just pull over to the side of the road, and grab a few hours of rest. Then a thought enters your mind right before you drift off to sleep. Is this legal? And two minutes later, you’re enjoying the most uncomfortable sleep of your life.

We’ve all been there, and we’ve all slept in our cars a handful of times, but few of us have ever thought seriously on whether or not crashing in your car for the night could wind us up in jail or to a lesser degree, having to a fine. We thought we’d attempt to address this question due to how many crazy answers people actually believe in. Here’s the simple answer though to whether or not sleeping in your car is illegal. It’s complicated.

We know that’s probably not what you wanted to hear when you clicked on this page and began reading this article, but it’s true. Sleeping in your car is a murky at best. It could be ok to do in one state, and not ok in another. Alternatively, the states that do have laws against it could have sections of the state where it is allowed making it extremely confusing for the average driver. The laws themselves though aren’t exactly targeting people just sleeping in their cars as they cross the country. But rather they were designed to address people living in their cars.

Currently, the U.S. is still going through a recession. Employment for the millennial generation is at its lowest and more and more of this age group are moving back home with their parents. However, there is a growing population of them that are forgoing the parent’s wonderful hospitality and moving into their cars and vans. It has become popular enough that there are no less than a few thousand articles online devoted to How To Live in Your Car.

However, because of this growing population of car dwellers, cities have been forced to address this issue. Not only have cities put laws in place concerning sleeping in one’s car due to public safety, but also because sleeping in your car can potentially be dangerous for your health and the health of others. That said, because car dwellers sleep in their cars, both the matters of sleeping and living in your car had to be handled in the same broad strokes of the law.

However, there are still places that have been set up for people to sleep in their cars. For instance, rests stops are always cool to sleep at. They were built for that specific reason. People traveling across the country or even just across state lines need these to stop, stretch their legs, and catch a few Z’s before they get back on the road. It aids in road safety, and won’t be taken away any time soon. There are also camp grounds, but usually you’ll need to call ahead.

Parks, parking lots, and living in a van down by the river—well, that’s where you should consult your local laws to find out if it’s ok or not. Or just park next to the cop sleeping below, we doubt he’d have a problem with it.


Super Moderator
24,212 Posts
20 years ago I went from Germany, down to Marseille and up the west coast to Brittany on the bike (VFR750).

Every few hours I'd pull in for fuel, grab a drink and catch some shut eye.
I just put the bike on its main stand and rested my head on the tank bag (lid still on).
Nobody bothered me.
Which is good and bad. Not one person wondered if I was ok and got bothered enough to check.
A couple of times I was close to where the police pulled up.
Guess our French neighbours know when they see a crazy Brit.

373 Posts
I think a key component to this is where.

There are long-haul trucks on the road specifically designed so the driver can pull off the road and sleep. That might be only allowable in certain stretches, but if you find out where, that might be fair game.

Also, on private property, unless the owner of the property objects, I would think law enforcement would have a tough time claiming you can't do that. Unfortunately in So. California, we seem to have a lot of families living out of vehicles parked in shopping mall parking lots. So I think until the property owner objects, they get left alone. Once that owner objects, they move to another parking lot. But not having attempted this or been the owner of a shopping mall, I'm speculating on this point.

Further, the argument that I was sleepy and it is safer to take a nap than continue to drive and risk falling asleep behind the wheel should be something any LEO would appreciate. However, it is always better to know beforehand whether this could be a contentious point and stick to locations where it won't be a problem.
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