Is It Illegal to Sleep In Your Car?

Is It Illegal to Sleep In Your Car?

We’ve all been on a long distance car trip and felt the need to pull over for a quick rest. In fact, most driver’s education programs advice just that for road weariness — pull safely to the side of the road and take a nap. “Sleeping it off” is much safer than pressing on to the next available motel or to your final destination. Road weariness leads to more accidents than anything besides drunken driving.

The question many people have is “Is it illegal to sleep in your car?”

Legalities of Sleeping In Your Car

Even though our car is our own private property, and even though we are all told to take a nap if we get tired while driving, there is some concern that sleeping in your car could get you in big trouble. Why should sleeping in the car be perceived as a danger?

1. Vagrancy

In most cases where police don’t want you to sleep in your car it is because they are looking to clear the streets of vagrants. Many times, people who are homeless will find any shelter from the elements, and this includes abandoned or unlocked cars. Police will often wake you up if you’re sleeping in your car in order to determine that you’re not a homeless person in an illegal sleeping situation.

2. Suicide

It is an unfortunate fact of our society that many people choose to end their lives in their cars. If a police officer sees a person asleep in a car, they may assume that person is in the process of committing suicide. Police will often perform a wellness check, look at your license and other documents, and suggest you move on down the road. There’s also a chance that they’ll allow you to remain sleeping, as long as it isn’t against city or county ordnances.

3. Suspicious Behavior

Even in areas where sleeping in the car is legal, police have the right to search you and your vehicle if they believe you are exhibiting suspicious behavior. Police are on the lookout for drug dealers, drug users, and other felonious activity.

4. Health and Safety

If you have parked your car in an unsafe area for sleeping (too close to the road or in an unlit spot) they may ask you to move to a safer spot for sleep. If this is the case, you can expect to be pretty thoroughly searched in the process.

How to Sleep In Your Car (Legally)

Some states, like Texas for example, want you to use their official rest stops for any necessary sleep while on the road. These rest stops are well-lit and well away from the danger of the highway. Other states do not allow this behavior anywhere, so it is best to plan for a sleep stop somewhere along the way. If all else fails, find a big box store (like Wal-Mart) where RVs and other vehicles are known to pull in for a night’s sleep.

If you have any question about whether or not a business will allow you to use their lot for sleep, simply ask the management.

There’s never a good reason to drive while tired. If you must pull over and sleep in your car, do so safely and in accordance with local laws and you should have no trouble getting forty winks.

This article is part of a series we’re doing on “Is It Illegal?” The other posts in this series are:

4 thoughts on “Is It Illegal to Sleep In Your Car?

  1. Ricardo Santos

    1. “Police will often wake you up if you’re sleeping in your car in order to determine that you’re not a homeless person in an illegal sleeping situation.”

    So its illegal to be homeless. Does that make the bank that throw out the person from its home an accessory on a crime? Or is it the government by not providing enough shelters? Who knows. Maybe law, but an unfair one.

    2. “Even in areas where sleeping in the car is legal, police have the right to search you and your vehicle if they believe you are exhibiting suspicious behavior.”

    Wrong, police cannot search your car without your consent or a court order. This has being ratified on many occasions by the Supreme Court, as it violates the 4th amendment. If this happen, the policeman is a criminal.

  2. Randy Xmetalrocker

    Sleeping in your car/van is legal even though the city may have a ordanance. Wicks vs Oregon the judge stated that those ordanences are not supported by the constitution. It’s considered cruel and unusual punishment and you can’t criminalize people for nessesary behavior such as breathing eating and sleeping. ;-)

  3. michael

    police will do whatever they want if they think they can get away with it. vagrancy is a crime in many areas which is rediculous. i have been illegally search a few times. How can you prove that you told them NOT to search? If their dash cam or any other camera isnt recording be careful, many police officers are some sick and twisted individuals. Also rest areas have a ugly history of crime. you really cant win

  4. Matt

    Do not listen to Ricardo’s advice. Your car is not protected by the 4th Amendment, and even those things that are may as well not be, as the 4th Amendment is long dead in this country. I am a defense lawyer and I know how easy it is for cops to lie about “probable cause” in order to do damn near anything they want. I hate to say this, but the only way to be truly safe in this country is to make sure you NEVER come into contact with a cop, no matter what. Obey all laws at all times and if you must sleep in your car, do it in a way so as not to give a cop any reason to bother you. Worst case scenario, hide yourself in the car so they cannot see you while you sleep and then DO NOT respond if they attempt to wake you. Cops are promoted based on arrests and tickets, and they will and do lie in order to boost their stats. A hard reality for some to believe, but a reality it is nonetheless.

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