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Sleeping in One’s Car – Legal or Illegal?

Whether you are bugging out, evacuating from a disaster, practicing your escape and evasion routes, or just heading out on a road trip, sometimes you get tired behind the wheel and need to pull over for some shut-eye.

a busy street in Berlin

But one thing to consider, and something most people don’t, is whether or not sleeping in your car is illegal. In the wrong circumstances, this could be a really big deal! So what’s the word? Is it legal or illegal to sleep in your vehicle?

It’s generally legal to sleep in your car at the federal and state levels, but some states do have laws on the books that make it illegal to sleep in your car under at least some circumstances. Local laws on the practice also vary considerably.

As a rule of thumb, as long as you are pulled over in an appropriate place and not breaking any other laws, it’s a-okay to sleep in your vehicle. But you should not assume that it is.

If you’re in the wrong town, on the wrong property, or are drawing suspicion, you’ll likely be told to move along or even fined. There’s a whole lot more you need to know on the subject before you catch some Z’s in your car, so keep reading.

Is it Illegal to Sleep in Your Car at the Federal Level?

No, it isn’t. There are no federal laws that make it overtly illegal to sleep in your car or any other vehicle as long as you aren’t breaking any other laws in the process. However, if you are trespassing on Federal Land and catching some shut-eye, you’re still breaking federal law.

Is it Illegal to Sleep in Your Car at the State Level?

In some states, yes, but not in most of them. I should also point out that no state has laws on the books that make it flat-out illegal, no questions asked, to sleep in your vehicle.

It’s the circumstances or places that make sleeping in your vehicle illegal, though, and you’ll have to take the time to check out your state’s laws. More on that in the following sections…

Is it Illegal to Sleep in Your Car in California?

No. Broadly, it is legal to sleep in your vehicle throughout most of California and in most places. However, all state and local laws on trespassing apply, and you must be very sure that you aren’t sleeping on private property without permission.

Also, California has a lot of laws concerning homelessness on the books, and there are many situations where sleeping in your car might fall under the jurisdiction of those homelessness laws, so be sure to check those out too.

Is it Illegal to Sleep in Your Car in Florida?

No, but on a limited basis. Florida has several laws concerning car sleeping but generally, as long as you aren’t violating any parking statutes or parked somewhere you don’t belong or haven’t paid to access, there won’t be a problem.

Note that Florida has prohibitions against camping illegally in state parks and public land, and as a rule, you cannot camp on a beach overnight unless it is a specifically designated campsite.

Is it Illegal to Sleep in Your Car in Missouri?

No. At least, there are no state-level laws against doing so assuming you aren’t breaking any other laws. As always, be mindful of where you’re parking, and do not trespass.

Is it Illegal to Sleep in Your Car in Texas?

No, it isn’t. By and large, it is totally legal to sleep in your car in Texas wherever you happen to be, but you must follow all laws concerning loitering, trespassing, parking, and so on.

Local Laws on Car Sleeping Vary Significantly!

Here’s where things get tricky if you want to sleep in your car. Federal and state laws typically aren’t a problem, but local laws might be.

Many municipalities(see pages 41 to 43), be they at the county or city level, have instituted laws that can affect sleeping in your car under various circumstances.

For instance, you might simply not be allowed to sleep in public at all, or sleep in public after nightfall. That’s the case in Louisville, Kentucky, for instance. Whether or not you are in your car makes no difference.

Likewise, laws on loitering might come into play, as well as laws against prolonged sitting or lying down in public spaces.

There’s just no telling how the interactions of these laws might affect you when it comes to sleeping in your car. The only thing to do is look up all of the relevant laws in the areas where you are living, working, traveling, or visiting.

If you’re in doubt, look for a spot that you know is okay to park to get some shut-eye, but keep in mind that that won’t necessarily protect you from those laws.

Police and Security Personnel Might Not Want You Around

At the end of the day, regardless of where you are and whether or not it is legal, police and private security forces simply might not want you around. If it’s suspicious, drawing the wrong kind of attention or interfering with other people in some way, they might tell you to move along.

Can You Sleep at the Wheel of Your Car?

Yes, though there are likely some state and local laws against this regardless of where you happen to be sleeping.

But, as a rule of thumb, assuming you are pulled over in a safe and permitted spot, there’s nothing wrong with leaning your seat back and catching some shut-eye in the driver’s seat.

Can You Pull Over and Sleep if You Are Tired?

Yes, you can, and especially if you are traveling on the interstate. Pretty much every state has rest stops, welcome centers, and other pull-offs specifically for this occasion.

You should never simply pull over to the side of the highway to get some sleep if there is any way whatsoever to avoid it. Not only is it very dangerous, but it is also likely illegal.

Is it Okay to Sleep at Rest Stops and Welcome Centers?

Absolutely. That’s what they are there for, as mentioned above! If you’re tired or groggy, or just need to head to a spot that you know is safe and permissible for sleeping in your vehicle, they’re a great choice.

Many of them also have around-the-clock security, which is great if you need some extra assurance before you get some shut-eye.

Can You Sleep in Your Car at Camp Sites?

Yes, assuming that vehicles are allowed at the campsite. Car camping has been a popular activity for some years now, and getting more popular all the time. Accordingly, many municipalities, states, and private enterprises have sprung up to enable people to do just that.

The trick is you need to know whether or not your campsite charges money for the reservation. If they do, you’ve got to pay up, or else you can be towed, ticketed, or even have charges pressed against you.

Public campgrounds in state and national parks are a great bet, especially if you want to save money, but you might not be able to stay at them long-term, so check.

Watch Out for Places Where You Shouldn’t Park at All

I hope it would be obvious, but no matter where you are and what the legal synopsis is for car sleeping, there are a few places where you should avoid sleeping at all.

  • No Parking Signs. Talk about a low-IQ move! If there’s a “no parking” sign, anywhere, and you park there to go to sleep, don’t be surprised if you get hassled by the police, ticketed, or even get your car towed. Please use some common sense!
  • Metered Spots. Metered spots are a bad idea for car camping, even though you might think that would give you a certain legal claim to the spot since you are paying for it. They tend to be in public areas of high traffic where parking spots are limited, and you snoozing away in your vehicle will quickly draw attention from passersby, meter maids, and law enforcement. Just don’t do it!
  • Private Property. If you don’t have explicit permission to be there, and be there for a given length of time, don’t risk sleeping on private property. If you get caught, trespassing charges can be substantial, even felony level depending on the state you’re in. Plus, you can be confronted by law enforcement if they get called on you, or just an angry and possibly armed landowner.
  • Gated / Time-Restricted Lots. Any gated or time-restricted lot that you’re able to get access to will typically have periodic patrols performed by employees, security forces, or law enforcement. It’s tempting to scoot off to an airport lot if you just need some time to rest and be alone, and that’s a valid strategy if you’re traveling long-term or roughing it in your car – but you need to be cautious of parking garages and other facilities.

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