If you are feeling sleepy while driving, you are advised to pull over and take a nap instead of going on and risking a car crash. However, is it illegal to sleep in your car? Read on, and you will learn if it is.
It is not illegal to sleep in your car. No federal law prohibits you from sleeping in your car – unless you are intoxicated or trespassing. It is illegal to drive while you are falling asleep. However, there are local ordinances in some cities that make sleeping in a car a crime. Overnight stays at rest stops are also prohibited in some states to control loitering.
While it’s not illegal to sleep in your car in the U.S., there are several exceptions to this prohibition. Additionally, laws regulating sleeping in vehicles vary from state to state. For instance, several states, including Virginia and Florida, prohibit motorists from sleeping overnight at rest stops.
Read on to learn whether it is illegal to sleep in your car and how this law is observed in different states.
Is It Illegal to Sleep in Your Car in a Parking Lot?
No Federal Law Prohibits You from Sleeping in Your Car in a Parking Lot
The simple answer is no. It is not illegal to sleep in your car. No federal law prohibits you from doing this – unless you are intoxicated or trespassing. But it is illegal to drive while you are falling asleep.
Local Ordinances That Prohibit Sleeping in a Car
Some cities in the country have local ordinances that make sleeping in a car a crime. Overnight staying at rest stops is prohibited in some states to prevent people from loitering.
Laws Vary from State to State
Laws prohibiting sleeping in cars also vary from state to state. More than a dozen states, including Virginia and Florida, have laws that forbid overnight sleeping at rest stops, even for tired and sleepy motorists.
No Law That Prohibits People from Living in a Car
You may wonder if the law prohibits you from living in your car. There is none just as long as your car’s spot belongs to you. For instance, you can sleep in your car parked on your driveway. You can do it all you want because that place is yours.
If your car is parked on public or private land and you’ve been sleeping there for days, note that federal laws take precedence over local ordinances regarding these matters.
Best to Find Rest Stops
Road trippers have no qualms about sleeping anywhere since they are just taking a break. But it’s always wise to be discreet and do your best to find spots designated as rest stops.
Laws Are More Focused on Regulating Long-term Dwellings
The laws about sleeping in cars are more focused on regulating long-term dwellings. If you are constantly on the road traveling, you should try to be aware of the legalities of sleeping inside your car.
In that way, you will be confident about the resting spots that are open in the places you are going to. To help you in this matter, I have compiled information about the laws that regulate sleeping in cars in some states in the U.S.
What States Is It Illegal to Sleep in Your Car?
No law in Texas prohibits you from sleeping inside your car. However, Texas police officers will charge you for a DUI offense if you sleep in your car while you are intoxicated.
You also need to check if you legally park in the spot you chose. Also, be aware of the regulations and follow the parking and traffic signs of the area.
While there is no law forbidding you to sleep in your car, it pays to check the local area’s ordinances that are enforced regarding this matter. You can also check the picnic areas and designated rest areas in Texas through the state’s travel information centers.
In the Golden State, you can sleep in your car at designated rest stops for up to eight hours, but not during the night. California also prohibits you from pitching a tent by your car since they have outlawed car camping.
You can sleep at designated rest stops and specific areas reserved for overnight parking. But parking on the freeway is strictly not allowed, except for emergencies.
The local area’s official website will have enough information about the designated overnight parking spots. So, go on and check this website before driving to that place.
There are many places in New York where you are allowed to sleep in your car. This state has several rest areas, parking areas, welcome centers, and scenic overlooks where you can take a short nap.
However, each of these areas has its restrictions and exceptions. So, read all the parking and other signs carefully when you are there. Truck drivers are allowed up to ten hours of sleep time inside their trucks at every stop in New York. Non-commercial drivers are only allowed up to three hours.
Along the New York State Thruway and inside state facilities, ordinary drivers can park their vehicles for up to four hours. But be aware that while some of these parking and resting places are legal, they may not all be necessarily safe. So, it pays to check first before you go there.
You are also allowed to sleep inside your car in New Jersey. The Garden State has several scenic overlooks, rest areas, and service plazas where you can rest your tired eyes. No camping is allowed, though, in these places.
There are also certain areas in the Garden State where parking is not allowed. For instance, you can’t park your car in the streets of residential areas. If you do, you can be mistaken for a ‘suspicious character’ by homeowners in that area.
It’s better to park your car in New Jersey’s many less conspicuous spots like a campground, inside a national forest, or at a commercial store’s parking lot.
In the Florida Keys, you are prohibited from sleeping in your car anywhere. But the Sunshine State allows you to take a nap for three hours in one of its rest areas. You can get a list of Florida Keys’ rest areas by visiting their official website.
In this state, they won’t allow you to sleep inside your car on the shoulder of the highway. That place is reserved only for emergencies. Also, be aware that each city in this state enforces its own rules and ordinances.
If you feel sleepy while driving anywhere in the Florida Keys, your best route is to park your vehicle in a big box store parking lot that operates 24 hours and then sleep there. But be aware that police officers can also arrest you while sleeping inside your car if you are intoxicated.
In Pennsylvania, you can sleep inside your car if parked in a legal parking space. Police officers may perform a welfare check on you to see if you’re alright, but generally, they will leave you alone if you take a catnap.
If a law enforcer checks on you, present your license, vehicle registration, or proof of insurance if they ask. Explain to them that you are resting because you feel sleepy and tired.
Resting in a residential area is also not a big problem in Pennsylvania. Ask the homeowner’s permission near the place or street where you intend to park and rest. If you only need to rest for a couple of hours, you can go to this state’s rest areas, which are open for parking 24 hours.
But be aware that you can be arrested if you are sleeping inside your car if intoxicated.
Again, is it illegal to sleep in your car? Aside from ensuring that you are legally parked, no laws prohibit you from sleeping in your car in NYC.
If you find yourself sleepy in Illinois, you can park at one of its rest stops and sleep there, day or night. You are allowed to rest for up to three hours only. However, if the police officer who checks on you finds out that you need to rest, they will allow you to stay there longer.
You will have no problem finding a place to park and sleep in Illinois because it has 11 welcome centers and 30 rest areas open for people like you. But be aware that Chicago and other big cities in this state are enforcing stricter laws on parking.
So, if you are there, read all the parking signs carefully. You can also be arrested in the Prairie State if you sleep in your car because of intoxication.
When Is It Illegal to Sleep in a Car
It is not that the government does not want people to sleep inside their vehicles just like that. The government understands that there are many reasons why drivers choose to sleep in their cars. A lot of drivers have valid reasons to sleep inside their cars.
They may want to take a nap because they are already tired from driving for many hours. Or they may snooze a little bit after a tiring day at the office. These drivers are different from the owners of R.V.s living and sleeping inside their vehicles.
What Federal laws disallow are the following:
- Falling asleep at the wheel
- Sleeping inside your car if you are trespassing without permission
- Sleeping inside your car because you are intoxicated
As it is, certain city laws regulate sleeping in cars by drivers and passengers. These laws are somewhat complex and sensitive because of their connection to homelessness. That’s why you need to understand where these laws are coming from.
Note the tips below to ensure that you’re following the law:
- Follow and obey all the signage you see on the resting spot
- Don’t park and sleep on busy streets
- Stay away from private property unless you have the owner’s permission
- Don’t park and sleep on the highway shoulder
- Avoid parking and sleeping in residential areas
- Don’t park and sleep in tourist spots
Areas Where You Can Sleep Legally Inside Your Car
You can sleep in your car in a hotel parking lot. But some places are more legal and safer for you to park and sleep. You also need to observe the time limits in these areas.
Here are some areas where you can park and sleep and not be worried about being kicked out and possibly arrested by law enforcers:
1. Rest Areas
Every state in the union has designated rest areas for tired and weary drivers and travelers. However, there are time limits in each of these rest areas. These areas are designed for short hours of stay only. You are not encouraged to stay there for long periods.
2. Welcome Centers
Every state in the U.S. has at least one welcome center for tourists. Many states operate several welcome centers situated strategically in their areas.
You can park your car and sleep in a state’s welcome center where you are presently at. It is one of the safest places you can take your needed rest.
3. Walmart Stores
Walmart chains allow drivers to take their short naps in their parking lots – but only with their permission. You have to ask the manager of the local Walmart outlet before you are allowed to park and rest.
4. Hotels and Casinos
You can also park and sleep at a hotel or casino if you ask the permission of the hotel or casino manager first. These places are open 24 hours a day, so; there should be no problem just as long as you are allowed by their officials.
5. BLM Land
Many public lands in every state are open to weary travelers like you. The Bureau of Land Management operates 24 hours a day. These BLM areas, around 245 million acres in total, have many parking lots where you can park your car and sleep.
6. Friend’s Private Property
If you have nowhere to go to, and you’re getting close to a friend’s house, you can certainly ask their permission if you can spend a few hours to rest and sleep on their grounds, inside your car of course, not inside their house.
If you two are very close to each other, who knows, they may even invite you in for some refreshments.
Why Sleeping Inside a Car Is Illegal in Some States
It is illegal to sleep on somebody else’s property without their permission. You are trespassing their property, that’s why. Additionally, if the police find out that you are intoxicated while sleeping, they will arrest you.
What the law wants to prevent is not the act of sleeping inside a vehicle but parking your car too long in one spot that is not your property. In the eyes of the law, parking your vehicle and sleeping inside it should only be temporary and short.
So, you are not allowed to park and sleep on public roadways and private property (without permission). Tourist spots are strict on parking policies, so don’t assume that you can park there and sleep for as long as you want.
Frequently Asked Questions
To help you get a better idea of what you are getting into if you are parking your car and sleeping inside it even for just an hour, in an undisclosed private place, read the following information:
Is It Against the Law to Sleep in Your Car?
No, it is not against the law to sleep inside your car. If you are parked on someone else’s property, you are trespassing and have not asked for their permission. However, some states prohibit overnight parking. They do this to control people loitering around in public places aimlessly.
Can I Park My Car Anywhere and Sleep in It?
Technically, you can, but you shouldn’t do it. Some cities in the U.S. have stricter ordinances regarding this matter. So before doing this, you need to check the local ordinances of the place where you are. Take Virginia and Florida as an example.
These states don’t allow drivers to sleep in their vehicles overnight, even at rest stops.
Where Can I Park and Sleep Safe and Legally?
Every state in the U.S. operates several welcome centers. These centers are located strategically in each state. They are there specifically for people like you who are already tired of driving and need to have some rest.
If you visit the state’s official website where you are going to, you will find the locations of its welcome centers.
Conclusion: Are You Violating a Law If You Sleep in Your Car?
No, you are not violating any federal law if you sleep in your car – unless you are drunk. The fact is, you are violating the law if you are driving while you are falling asleep.
With that said, some cities have ordinances that make sleeping in cars a crime. In some states, you are prohibited from staying overnight at rest stops. They do this to control the aimless loitering of people.
There are many places where you can park and sleep without being bothered by any law enforcer. Such places include:
- Welcome centers
- BLM lands
- Rest areas
- Walmart parking areas
- Parking lots of hotels and casinos (with permission from their managers)