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Is It Illegal to Sleep In Your Car?

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Why you can trust Insurify

Insurify partners with top insurance companies and is a licensed agent in all 50 states. However, the insurance experts writing our content operate independently of our partners. Check out reviews from over 3,000 satisfied customers, how we make money, our data methodology, and our editorial standards.
Mallory Profeta

By: Mallory Profeta

Edited by Jackie Cohen

Updated September 15, 2022

The short answer is that it depends on where you are. While there’s no federal law that bans sleeping in your car (unless you’re intoxicated), each state and city has its own rules known as “vehicle habitation laws.” Whether you’re taking a quick nap on a trip or living in your vehicle, you need to look up the local ordinances that govern if and where sleeping in your car is allowed.

Don’t park just anywhere if you need some shut-eye. Your best bet is to find designated places where it’s legal and safe to sleep in your vehicle. You also need to be sure you have proper vehicle insurance if you’re sleeping in your vehicle, especially if you’re driving an RV or camper. Use the Insurify price-comparison tool to get quotes from multiple companies at once.

Quick Facts

  • There’s no federal law that makes sleeping in your car illegal, but many cities, municipalities, and neighborhoods have their own rules that ban or regulate it.

  • You need to do your research about if it’s legal to sleep in your car based on where you are; try to find designated parking spots.

  • If you are sleeping in your vehicle for any reason, make sure you’re in a safe place.

Local Laws

Is it illegal to sleep in my car?

Never sleep in your car while parked on private property unless you have permission. Always make sure you’re in a safe place before parking overnight.

It’s your responsibility to understand local and state laws, such as zoning and time limits, regarding sleeping in your car; otherwise, you could find a police officer tapping on your window. Most rules about overnight parking aim to prevent car camping, long-term stays, and loitering; unfortunately, these rules can make it hard for homeless people to find places to park and sleep.

Sometimes, overnight parking rules are very clear. For example, in Hawaii, it’s illegal to sleep in your car at a rest stop between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., and in South and North Carolina, it’s banned altogether. Sometimes, though, the rules are a little blurry, like in states that ban “overnight parking” at rest stops but do allow you to “sleep in your vehicle until it’s safe for you to drive.”

If you need to find the regulations for your location, look for relevant signage and/or do a quick internet search. You can also ask 24-hour businesses or churches if it’s ok to park overnight or take a nap.

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Walmart Parking Lots

The store manager of each individual Walmart can decide if overnight parking is permitted in their parking lot. Walmart stores have historically been very welcoming to the RV and camper communities and allowed vehicles to stay overnight in their parking spaces. But due to overuse of the allowance, the company has given discretion on the matter to managers.

Also complicating the matter is the potential for local laws that ban sleeping in your car; such a law would supersede any decision by a store manager. The quickest way to find out if a Walmart store allows overnight parking is to call them directly. Stores that do allow overnight parking generally permit a one-night stay.

If you do overnight park or sleep in the parking lot of a Walmart (or any commercial business), be courteous by making a purchase from the establishment and not leaving trash or making excessive noise. Note that grilling or outdoor cooking is not typically permitted.

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Where and When It’s Illegal to Sleep in your Car

  • Sleeping behind the wheel of your parked vehicle while you’re intoxicated is illegal under federal law; if caught, you’re subject to citation and jail for driving under the influence (DUI).

  • Don’t sleep in your vehicle in residential areas, on residential streets, or on private property without permission from the property owner(s); otherwise, you’ll be considered trespassing, which is a crime.

  • Many apartment complex areas require stickers or mirror tags on residents’ cars so it’s easy for facility security to determine who’s trespassing.

  • Snoozing in your car on the shoulder of a highway is not only illegal but dangerous.

  • In public parking areas and public properties that aren’t specifically designated for sleeping/overnight parking, it’s probably illegal. Popular tourist areas are particularly prone to law enforcement taking action against overnight parking.

  • Parking garages generally prohibit sleeping in your car, and staff could call law enforcement.

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Safety and Comfort While Sleeping in Your Vehicle

No matter where or why you’re sleeping in your car, make sure to do so safely! There are also simple ways to make the experience more comfortable.

  • Practice safe parking: avoid highway shoulders and busy city streets, and look for designated parking spaces where it’s legal to sleep or car camp.

  • Rest areas always allow at least a short rest until you’re ready to drive again.

  • Lock your doors.

  • Text someone your location before going to sleep.

  • Leaving the engine running puts you at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning; turn off your car.

  • Keep a sleeping bag rolled up in your car. It can help keep you warm and might make your back seat a little more comfortable. Add a small air mattress for extra comfort.

  • You can also keep a simple toiletry kit with things like wet wipes, disposable toothbrushes, and hand sanitizer.

  • If you’re planning to spend a lot of time sleeping in your vehicle, you could consider retrofitting it for a platform bed.

  • It’s always a good idea to keep some water and a flashlight in your car.

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The Bottom Line

No matter why you’re sleeping in your vehicle, know that there are state and local laws that govern where and when it’s allowed. If in doubt, do a quick internet search of laws where you are. And always make sure you’re using appropriate safety precautions when sleeping in your car or parking overnight.

If you need to enhance your car insurance because you’re keeping more valuables inside or if you need to purchase additional RV or camper coverage, use Insurify’s price-comparison tool to get quotes from multiple insurance companies with the click of a button. It’s fast, free, and personalized.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • If you’re sleeping in a regular consumer vehicle, then no. You only need special insurance if you’re driving a specialty vehicle like a camper or RV.

  • It depends on the state you’re in and the rest stop you’re at. If you’re not sure, you can look for physical signage at the rest stop, ask an attendant (if there is one), or do an internet search on local overnight parking and rest stop laws.

  • Websites and apps like Allstays and Hipcamp offer information and user reviews on parking locations and public lands (including time limits and facilities like bathrooms and showers). If you’re unsure about whether it’s legal to park overnight in the lot of a particular business, you can ask the owner or manager.

  • Again, it depends on how and where you’re doing it! Never park in high-traffic areas or on the shoulder of a road/highway. The safest option is to find a designated location where it’s legal and safe to park overnight or while you sleep. Always keep valuables out of view.

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Mallory Profeta
Mallory Profeta

Insurance Writer

Mal Profeta is a writer, editor, educator, and public health advocate. They serve as the communications director of an NIH-funded clinical and translational science research center that focuses on addressing health disparities in Appalachia. A former Fulbright recipient, they hold a bachelor's degree from Transylvania University and a master's from New York University.

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