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There are countless reasons why a person would consider sleeping in a car. A fight with a spouse, sleeping off one too many drinks instead of driving home, a long day of dumpster diving, or a physical inability to keep your eyes open on a long drive. But is it illegal to sleep in your car?
Aside from intentional car camping, why are so many Americans turning their Accords and Outbacks into overnight accommodations?
With the average daily commute time rising in the US, and the number of fatalities behind the wheel hovering around 800 in an estimated 72,000 accidents, it’s no wonder people are pulling over to power nap. Here’s what you should know before sneaking in a roadside nap or camping out in your car long-term.
Is it illegal to sleep in your car?
People find the need to sleep inside their cars on a daily basis.
Since 2014, over 81 towns have banned sleeping in a motor vehicle, mostly to cut down on the number of homeless taking refuge inside a car. These laws are being met with harsh criticism from organizations tasked with caring for the homeless.
Unfortunately for thousands of Americans with full-time jobs, sleeping inside a car is also slowly becoming a way of life. A 2018 survey published by researchers from Temple University and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab reported that more than a third of college students lack stable housing.
The insane price of real estate in California has forced entire families to move into their motor vehicle. An estimated 15,000 people live in cars, RVs, and vans in just Los Angeles.
But the answer to the question “is it legal to sleep in your car” varies state-to-state and sometimes even by city.
The vehicle code section of DMV.org for a breakdown by state of laws regarding car regulations and safety and FindLaw.com is a searchable database of possible motor vehicle violations in each state.
Is it safe to sleep in a car?
There’s a danger to everything in life, even curling up in the back seat of a four-door hotel on wheels.
The first danger to be aware of involves the threat of moving vehicles. Never park along a major highway, or any road for that matter, and curl up as though you’re home snug in a bed. Pull off into a large parking lot or office complex, away from other cars and possible catastrophes.
Do a little prep work if you know you’re going to sleep in your car. Gathering information about where to safely park and rest before your trip, especially those across vast distances, is never a bad idea.
HipCamp and AllStays are free online guides to the best parks, campgrounds, city parks, casinos, and more free spots to park your car for an extended siesta. Rest areas are another no-brainer place to park and sleep in your car. Several states allow cars and trucks to park at a rest stop for up to 8-hours. That’s more than enough time to recharge the internal battery and get back on the road.
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Is it safe to sleep in your car after drinking?
One of the most common reasons for sleeping in a car is to avoid a DUI. While driving drunk is never the right choice, sleeping off a bender inside a vehicle might not be the best choice either.
Police can still charge drivers with a DUI if they’re drunk and inside a car, even if the car isn’t running. For the best chance at avoiding a DUI, FindLaw suggests “making it clear that you’re actually sleeping, and not taking a driving break.” The website advocates never sleeping in the driver’s seat and even putting the keys in the trunk to make it obvious you had no plans to leave the spot until sober.
Eventually, sleeping in a car might not only be legal everywhere but a way of life. Some car companies are even banking on this idea and including beds in their latest models.
Until then, retailers like REI offer helpful guides to sleeping inside a car during a camping trip, but many of the tips translate to shorter stints inside your vehicle.
If worse comes to worse and you can’t find a rest stop or decent spot to park and crash, head for the closest Walmart. They’re totally down with overnight guests.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
Chris Illuminati is an author and reporter whose work for the Daily Dot focuses on meme culture. His work has been published in Rolling Stone, FanSided, BroBible, Penthouse, and AskMen.