You got a late start on your road trip – and, now you’re feeling drowsy, so you pull off the highway to catch a few Z’s. A few minutes after dozing off, you hear a loud tap on your window. It’s a cop with his flashlight beam aimed right at you. The first thing that rushes through your mind isn’t whether you’ve paid your auto insurance – rather it’s if sleeping in your car is legal.
Needless to say, we’ve all done it at one time or another, but unless a stern-looking cop wakes you out of a sound sleep while you’re parked on the side of a highway – you may still be wondering. Could you wind up in jail or to a lesser degree, have to pay a fine? Well, there isn’t a simple answer. It’s actually a bit more complicated than that. But, we’ll try anyway.
There’s what you might call a “gray area” when it comes to sleeping in your car because it may be ok to do so in one state, but not ok in another. As unhelpful and confusing as this may sound, it’s true. However, the laws themselves aren’t meant to target people just sleeping in their cars as they drive cross-country. Instead, these statutes are directed at addressing people living in their cars.
Although the economy has improved somewhat from the recession of 2007-2008, and employment for the millennial generation is at the lowest point it’s been in years, another segment of the population hasn’t been quite as lucky. The fact that many millennials are moving back in with their parents, those who have opted not to or have no place to go are making their cars, trucks and vans their residence. Ironically, the practice has become so popular that thousands of articles have popped up on the internet devoted to How to Live in Your Car.
The growing population of car dwellers has reached a crisis level in some cities across the country, forcing municipalities to address the issue more seriously. As a result, cities have put laws in place concerning sleeping in one’s car due to public safety. Sleeping in your car is also considered potentially dangerous to your health and the health of others. Therefore, because car dwellers sleep in their cars, sleeping and living in your car had to be painted with the same broad strokes.
Conversely, there remain places that have been specifically set up for people to sleep in their cars. For example, rests stops are always approved to sleep at. In fact, they were built for that exact reason. People driving cross-country or just across state lines need these stops along the way, to stretch their legs, for a restroom break, and to catch a few Z’s before getting back on the road. It can be a matter of safety if your fatigue is at the point you can’t drive any father without jeopardizing your life or others.
Before you use the nearest park, parking lot or riverbank to get some sleep – you may want to consult your local laws or those in states you’ll be passing through to find out if it’s ok or not.