You don’t necessarily have to be homeless to sleep in your car. There is a number of occasions that come in our lives when sleeping in the car seems to be the only option. And while some people might think it is completely safe and legal to do so, after all, your car is your private property, the reality is otherwise.

It is not as simple as pulling over the curb to catch a few winks because you are about to pass out from fatigue. There are a lot of dimensions to this simple decision. Various laws and regulations determine whether not your activity is illegal. Here are a few things you should know about if you plan on sleeping in your car anytime soon.

Camping in Car
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Why is it illegal to live or sleep in your car?

The argument is simple. Your car is your own property. You can use it however you want. So, why would it be illegal to sleep inside it? But, the counter-argument is equally simple too. The land you are parking your car on is not your property. Therefore, by parking your car somewhere overnight means you are trespassing on other’s property, which is certainly an illegal activity.

Nevertheless, the real issue is harder to grasp than this. The core of the problem is what kind of people are sleeping inside the cars. Generally, there are homeless people who do not have permanent shelter. There are travelers or tourists who cannot afford the expensive hotel fee. And there are drivers, such as heavy vehicle drivers, who are too tired from driving continuously and need rest. For the latter, it’s a one-time thing while the former does it pretty regularly.

When you live inside your car and park it in a residential area, you risk discomfort and disturbance to the residents. In a way, it is a rift between the homeowners, who are privileged and the homeless, who are unprivileged. Homeowners paid a hefty amount to buy a house in a fancy area, they pay taxes and all the other jargon, to have a place where they feel safe and secure. They certainly do not want to see a homeless and potentially dangerous person around. And let’s be honest, there is a lot of prejudice against the poor and homeless. That is the main reason why is it illegal to sleep or live inside your car. Because it poses danger to other people. Even if you do not have any ill intention, the risk is still there.

It depends on the laws in specific states

However, the law recognizes how unjustified the situation could be to people who are actually in need. That’s why there are certain rules that people who have no choice but to sleep in their cars should follow. These laws vary from state to state and country to country. If you live in a country where living or sleeping in your car is unheard of, then you might be in luck, because there won’t be any proper law about it. Some of the rules are as follows.

  • Do not park at neighborhood streets or in residential areas.
  • Stay away from schools and daycare facilities, especially at night hours.
  • Do not sleep in your car in parks or other public properties because they exist for everyone and not for one individual to monopolize.
  • Do not set a camp, even in places that allow you to sleep overnight in your car.

Make sure to look up specific laws in your state or country to ensure you’re not doing anything illegal. There are some places where it is legally allowed to sleep in your car. Take a look at them.

Where can you legally sleep in your car?

While some areas are completely prohibited for the overnight car park, some openly accommodate homeless people. You should give these places a try the next time you need to sleep in your car.

Private Properties

If you have a friend who lives nearby, ask them if you can park your car at their house. Since the house is the private property of the owner, they can allow you to stay. You can sleep in your car legally and without worrying about any legal consequences. Similarly, if you get permission from the owners of restaurants or cafes, you can then, use the parking lot and sleep in your car there.

Parking Lot of Churches

Even if you’re not affiliated with a particular church, the authorities generally let people use their parking lot. But it is better if you go to the church you’re affiliated with. Make sure to ask the pastor for permission to ensure them you don’t mean any harm.

If you belong to some other religion, you should go to the respective place of worship. With the recent increase of terrorism at worshipping places, people of all religions are skeptical of anyone who doesn’t believe in the same God as them.

Walmart for Sleeping in Your Car

Walmart officially allows people, especially homeless people to camp at their parking lots. You can always go to the nearest Walmart store to sleep in your car. Just make sure you keep rotating and don’t hog a place all to yourself. The official website does state that it depends on the manager of a respective branch, so be sure to consult with them before using the parking lot. Moreover, a number of other stores such as Cabellas, Camping World and Sam’s Camp also allow people to sleep in their cars at their parking lot. You can always check them out too.

Gas or Rest Stations

For heavy vehicle drivers and truckers, gas stations are the best place to crash at, for some much-needed sleep. It is very dangerous for truck drivers to keep driving even when they are fatigued. Any accident with a heavy traffic vehicle is bound to result in fatal injuries. Rest stops are also open for cars and light traffic vehicle drivers as well. You can sleep there for six to eight hours without any question. But if you stay there longer than that, they might ask you to move on.

Camping Grounds for Sleeping in Your Car

If you have some money to spare, you can check-in at camping grounds as well. The fee for using the land for one night is around $20 to $30. But considering the benefits you get, it is worth it. You can use the shower and bath at the camping ground for a much needed thorough scrub. You can also borrow some kitchen utensils for BBQ and grilled dinner.

Shelter for Homeless

There are multiple shelters for homeless people in every city. They are usually open all the time for people in need. If you’re thinking of permanently using the service, they’ll probably ask you some question regarding your identity and domicile, etc. But as far as using the parking space is concerned, you can do it without any hassle. Make sure to ask permission from the relevant authority first.

Docks/ Marinas

Another good place to sleep in your car overnight is the dock if your city has one. Docks or marinas are fairly empty at night. And there is always hustle and bustle of the ships coming and leaving the docks. People are less likely to notice a car parked there. However, it is always better to ask or inform the people working there. So they don’t worry needlessly about potential criminals and robbers.

What penalties can you get if caught sleeping in your car illegally?

If you’re sleeping the night off in your car while it’s parked somewhere legal, you don’t have to worry about penalties. However, be ready to hear a knock at the window if you haven’t asked permission or informed the relevant authority.

On the other hand, if you’ve parked your car illegally at someplace, you will have to face legal consequences. The penalty is usually fine. But if you were drunk at the moment of inspection, the cops will charge you guilty of being drunk and in possession of a motor vehicle, even if you weren’t driving it. The penalty for that is severe, that is a fine, a twelve-month ban and even a jail term.

Tips to keep in mind for sleeping in your car

You can avoid the legal trouble if you’re more vigilant when choosing a place to sleep in your car. Keeping the following tips in mind can save you a lot of hassle.

  • Keep Rotating – don’t park at one place for a long time. Limit your stay to one night at one place. Rotation ensures that you don’t hog a spot and allow other homeless people to use it as well. Moreover, no one will get mistakenly suspicious about your intent.
  • Don’t perform daily tasks in your car – even you’re living in your car doesn’t mean you have to perform every daily task in it too. These include changing your clothes, eating or cooking your meals, hanging your laundry, etc. When you do this, you risk indecent exposure to people. There are safety concerns as well. Make sure to find a public bathroom for daily rituals and a restaurant or park to eat.

Featured image Courtesy by Flickr

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Author

Ana is an internet entrepreneur and one of the founders of iGuides, she loves to give adequate time to her passion which is writing. She holds a PHD in English Literature.

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