The simple answer is...it's complicated.
If you’ve ever taken a road trip, you’ve been here. Stuck on the side of the road at 2:47 AM, you’ve just passed through Vermont at record-breaking speeds, you’ve been traveling since 6 AM the previous day, your trip mates are all already sound asleep and snoring, and the six-pack of 5-Hour Energy you slammed twenty minutes ago isn’t doing bupkis.
You don’t want to fork over the cash for a motel room, so you decide to just pull over to the side of the road, and grab a few hours of rest. Then a thought enters your mind right before you drift off to sleep: is this legal? And two minutes later, you’re enjoying the most uncomfortable sleep of your life.
We’ve all been there, and we’ve all slept in our cars a handful of times, but few of us have ever thought seriously on whether or not crashing in your car for the night could wind us up in jail or to a lesser degree, having to a fine. We thought we’d attempt to address this question due to how many crazy answers people actually believe.
Here’s the simple answer though to whether or not sleeping in your car is illegal. It’s complicated. We know that’s probably not what you wanted to hear when you started reading the article, but it’s true. Sleeping in your car is murky, at best. It could be ok to do in one state, and not ok in another. Alternatively, the states that do have laws against it could have sections of the state where it is allowed making it extremely confusing for the average driver. The laws themselves though aren’t exactly targeting people just sleeping in their cars as they cross the country. But rather, they were designed to address people living in their cars.
Currently, the U.S. is still going through a recession. Employment for the millennial generation is at its lowest and more and more of this age group are moving back home with their parents. However, there is a growing population of them that are forgoing the parent’s wonderful hospitality and moving into their cars and vans. It has become popular enough that there are no less than a few thousand articles online devoted to How To Live in Your Car. However, because of this growing population of car dwellers, cities have been forced to address this issue. Not only have cities put laws in place concerning sleeping in one's car due to public safety, but also because sleeping in your car can potentially be dangerous for your health and the health of others. That said, because car dwellers sleep in their cars, both the matters of sleeping and living in your car had to be handled in the same broad strokes of the law.
However, there are still places that have been set up for people to sleep in their cars. For instance, rests stops are always cool to sleep at. They were built for that specific reason. People traveling across the country or even just across state lines need these to stop, stretch their legs, and catch a few Z’s before they get back on the road. It aids in road safety, and won’t be taken away any time soon. There are also camp grounds, but usually you'll need to call ahead. Parks, parking lots, and living in a van down by the river—well, that’s where you should consult your local laws to find out if it’s ok or not. Or just park next to the cop sleeping below, we doubt he'd have a problem with it.