The question of being able to sleep in your car isn’t a traffic or road regulation. Rather it’s because of private property and local law. Sleeping in your car is completely allowed. It’s a matter of where you are allowed to do it. With ongoing nationwide legislation, sleeping in your car is becoming increasingly restricted. There has been a 200% increase in cities that ban sleeping in a vehicle. Property owners aren’t too thrilled with cars being parked in their lots all hours of the day. Florida and Virginia are examples of states where sleeping in your car is outright illegal. California largely prohibits it with their strict parking enforcement from 9 PM to 6 AM.
At the same time, there’s legislation that allows it in select areas. Big cities like New York allow overnight parking during specific times of the year. So, the short answer is no. It’s not illegal to sleep in your car. If you were to wake up in your car to a police officer at your car window, they’re most likely enforcing a parking ordinance or pointing you off a property you shouldn’t be on. Allow this page to be your in-depth guide on where you can and can’t sleep in your car.
When would you sleep in your car?
There are reasons why anyone would sleep in a car, some beyond their control. The two most common are expensive housing and transitioning between a new home or job. Leases on new properties may take some time to activate, so you can’t move in right away. Most opt to ride it out in their car to save on hotel or any other lodging expense. It’s your own car, it’s insured, and you can use your personal vehicles however you like. Another reason for sleeping in your car is perhaps you’re on a budgeted road trip. However, you would have to research the parking ordinances your destinations allow.
It isn’t unheard of to sleep in your car. The number of people taking residence in their vehicles has remained constant. It’s also an ongoing process for cities and townships to update their parking ordinances to regulate it. Despite this, some people maintain a successful living on the road. Perhaps you’ve seen the “van-life” trend on social media. True, larger vehicles make for better shelters, but the insurance can be pricey. It can be done just as well with a sedan-sized car.
When is it illegal to sleep in your car?
Knowing when it’s illegal to sleep implies that you also know the local properties and the parking regulations. Finding a place to park and nap is essentially finding 24 hour or overnight parking. It helps to have a handle on three park rules –the hours of parking enforcement, city parking ordinances, and vehicle habitation laws.
Here are places when it is illegal to sleep in your car:
- Private property – Property owners never hesitate to issue trespassing charges to anyone parked on their land for a long time. This falls under the same category as “don’t park anywhere illegally.” Private property is often marked with signs or fences which should be noticed. They may save you a citation.
- Parking ordinances – Sleeping in your car is mainly illegal because of the parking regulations. Townships and cities have been monitoring them closely. For a good reason too. A parked car on a main street wouldn’t be good or safe for traffic.
- Certain cities – Cities like Phoenix and Miami have legislation that isn’t unique to them that outright makes sleeping in your car illegal –even at rest stops. Always be mindful of your city and state’s law regarding the actual circumstances for sleeping in a car.
- Highway and public property – Highways and other high traffic public areas don’t allow designated parking, let alone sleeping in your car. Public property is often more policed than private –increasing the odds of a citation.
- Suburban areas – This ties directly into private property but is worth mentioning alone. Camping in your car in suburban areas, especially in a cul-de-sac, can look suspicious. The townships own the roads and curbs, so they may be able to issue you a citation or tow your vehicle.
Where is it legal to sleep in your car?
Now that we’ve discussed what not to do, we can finally discuss what to do when it comes to sleeping in your car. There are specialized sites and laws that allow for vehicle lodging.
Here is where and it would be allowed:
- Owner’s permission – The only way to park on private property would be to get the owner’s permission. That way, you may be able to park as long as they allow you.
- Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – BLM oversees over 245 million acres of wilderness that allows camping –this includes car lodging. A general rule they have is after two weeks, campers are expected to move to another location at least 25 miles away from their original spot.
- Rest stops – A typical rest stop allows you to park for up to eight hours. Rest stops are located along main roads and expressways throughout the country for travelers. So, resting up isn’t just allowed but encouraged to keep tired drivers off the road. Some states allow overnight stays.
- Walmart – The United State’s largest employer is here to help with their parking lots. Most locations make accommodations to allow an overnight stay on their grounds. Restrictions depend on what state or town. Walmart does this because a large number of its customer base is on the road or traveling.
- Churches – Churches, synagogues, and other places of worship are actually private property. The best thing to do is think about them in the same terms as schools with extremely limited parking.
- Small businesses – Small businesses are like-wise, but they may be willing to let you park for a certain amount of time if you level with them. In the end, the owners always have the final say. A helpful tip is to look for 24-hour businesses like a fast-food restaurant, a movie theater lot, or a fitness center for places that handle long terms of parking.
Is sleeping overnight in your car safe?
The purpose of this section isn’t to deter you from sleeping in your car. Rather, it’s to provide you with the know-how to keep you safe. The last thing a car thief would want as they’re driving away is someone rising up from a backseat slumber. So, when you’re sleeping in your car, you won’t have to worry about it being stolen. Break-ins would also be deterred when they look through your windows and see a person inside. If you don’t like the idea of a person watching you while you sleep, then invest in tinted windows or cover them with a blanket.
Your safety also depends on the area you choose to settle in. Safe locations are those with more cars and people around, like a Walmart parking lot or a business lot. If you’re granted permission from a resident in a suburban area, then that would be a safer overnight stay. While they may be quieter, secluded areas tend to have more hidden dangers.
On the topic of hidden dangers, there’s also the matter of your car. A woman in 2014 who was living in her car was reported dead due to carbon monoxide poisoning. She was working between shifts and would stay in her car. Unfortunately, a gas container in the trunk tipped over, and the vehicle filled up with toxic fumes. Small cracks in the windows are necessary for fresh air.
A car is designed to transport passengers and a driver from point A to point B. The possibility of the car being a mobile home was something that Honda never considered when designing the Civic. However, people are able to prioritize liveable space with their vehicle’s foldable seats. Large vehicles like pickup trucks and vans may have space for a mattress on the go.
How does car insurance play into sleeping in your car?
No, you can’t cover a vehicle you’re sleeping in under a homeowner’s policy. The car would still have to pass the state’s minimum required insurance coverage. That would be the liability coverage. How much you’re paying for your car insurance should be taken into account when you’re lodging in your car regularly, especially since you may be on a budget. So, if you’re shopping around, it’s best to compare the quotes you would receive.
You can get into an accident with someone during the day while driving, so collision insurance may be a plus if you find yourself driving more than sleeping. Comprehensive insurance will be the best option if you sleep in your car more than you drive it. That would protect you from any vandalization or break-ins your car may face. If you’re keeping personal or valuable items in your car, you’ll want them insured. There’s plenty of low-cost auto insurance available regionally and nationally.