Is it true that you can be arrested for sleeping in your car?

If this is true, why?

I think it would depend on the specifics. Engine running, beer in hand, parked (legally or otherwise) on a public road…yes, I believe it is.
Parked in your garage, nice night out, stone sober, no kids to worry about, keys are on the kitchen counter. I can’t see any reason why that would be illegal.

In motion - yes.

Is there a scenario that you were curious about?

Falling asleep on any public parking lot of a building that’s open 24 hours, particularly at night. And in a park during the day.

I’ve read news stories about people living in their car. They profiled several people who had recently lost jobs and homes. Finding a place to park & sleep undisturbed takes practice. Cops will roust people and make them move elsewhere. Usually they don’t arrest unless the person is intoxicated or belligerent.

WAG - I would think appearance matters. In this economy there are middle class people who become homeless. Keeping a clean appearance sets them apart from the typical homeless guy you see drunk somewhere.

The parking lot, the way you state it, would likely get you arrested (or at least ticketed) for either loitering or trespassing (if the owner asked you to leave) since by “public parking lot” what you most likely mean is “private parking lot” as in, owned by someone other then the government. As for falling asleep in a park, in your car, in the passenger seat, in a legal parking spot, car off, during the day, keys in your pocket, sober, I can’t see anything illegal about that, but I’d guess you might wind up with the cops waking you up and asking you to move along. More because it’s out of the ordinary then anything else. If you pressed them for a reason, they might leave you alone…or they might find something else to arrest you for.

If you really wanted to sleep in your car, I think your best bet would be to find a small mom and pop type place, go in, buy something and say “Hey, I’m on a road trip, do you mind if I pull my car around behind your building and crash for a for an a couple of hours before I take off. Thanks” If it’s okay with the owners, the cops will likely leave you alone as well. If it’s a friendly town, the cops would even appreciate a call to let them know that you’re there. So they A) don’t bother you and B) can keep an eye on you.

On Everybody Loves Raymond, Deb got arrested for DUI after falling into a drunken sleep behind the wheel of her (parked) car because the key was inserted in the starter. Key in her purse would have been OK?

I was sleeping in my car in the parking lot of a public library in Houston one fine afternoon. A cop pulled in behind me and told me that I couldn’t sleep there. He went back to his car to check my bona fides, then returned a few minutes later. He shrugged and said, “Man, you’re not doing anything wrong, after all.” He sounded amazed.

I have have slept in my car many times in lots of states usually because I need to rest for a few hours while driving long distance. It may be technically illegal to sleep in your car somewhere but that isn’t usually what they are looking for. I have had some run-ins with the police knocking on my window a few times but it never resulted in anything. They check your license, run your plates, look for a warrant, try to look in your vehicle etc. but they will eventually leave you alone if they can’t find anything else. The most important thing is to cooperate and be clear that you just felt driver fatigue and needed to rest before you move on.

Sleeping in your car while drunk is a potentially serious issue. I made it out of that one twice in my younger days by leaving the keys completely hidden outside of the vehicle and sleeping in the passenger seat. Neglecting either of those two steps can result in a DUI even if you have no plans on going anywhere so don’t do it ever.

I don’t know everything that the police could possibly pursue if you pissed them off for this in all states but I do know that I frustrated at least two of them badly when they tried to come up with things to charge me with and couldn’t because I just gave a reasonable explanation, cooperated, and agreed to move on. The vast majority of the time, no one will bother you however.

Depends on the state. There are places where it’s a violation if the keys are in any way accessible to the driver.

I was once hassled by the rent-a-cop in a public parking garage for sitting in my car and reading a book (while waiting to pick up some friends). Apparently “non-parking activities” were prohibited. I got the impression it was more of a lot policy than a law, but who knows. I think a lot of rules/laws prohibiting non-parking activities in parking lots are aimed at drug deals and other nefarious goings on, but people who just want to catch a couple of winks in their car get caught up.

There’s all sorts of spots where sleeping in your car is clearly allowed (for certain lengths of time), like rest areas and truck stops. If you’re in the western part of the country, you can also sleep right off of most Forest Service and BLM roads.

I don’t know the specifics but I remember not too long ago hearing Wal-Mart advertise that its lots were “open to RVers.” And I’ve definitely seen some of those big monster-RVs parked in a Wal-Mart parking lot over night, my guess being they’re on a long haul trip and Wal-Mart makes a convenient place to stop for a night (most of them are open 24 hours and have all the necessities if you need to stock up on something.)

Not sure if that invitations stands for car sleepers, though.

Not in Minnesota.
Our DWI laws say that it is a crime to be drunk and ‘in physical control of a vehicle’. And courts have ruled that to be anywhere inside the car, even passenger or back seat, while having the keys in your custody, including in your pocket, purse, or backpack meets this definition. Even if the car is turned off – it’s still a DWI arrest. And ‘vehicle’ includes a horse & carriage, for the benefit of our Amish & Hutterite communities.

I’ve slept in a my vehicle in a lot of wayside rests over the years. Never been rousted even when they’re posted “no camping” or “no overnight parking” or anything like that. I gotta figure that only the dumbest hardass LEO is going to roust someone sleeping in such a place and force them onto the highway, where they may endanger themselves and others.

Certainly they’re not going to waste their time hauling you in when it is extremely unlikely that you’d even face any charges over it unless they found drugs on you. They usually have better things to do with their time.

A profile of U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas a few years ago mentioned that he likes driving around the country in his RV every summer, and often spends the night in Wal-Mart parking lots, as do many others. Dunno if he ever gets rousted for SWB (“Sleeping while black”)…

Sounds like a great enterpreneurial idea for someone. A car park on their property. But damn, any decent person would feel guilty as hell knowing that some small family is parked outside their home living in their car. I couldn’t stand it.:frowning:

A church parking lot, perhaps, with a special paper on the windshield stating one has been given permission. But here again…:frowning:


Oh yeah. My ideas up there probably won’t work either because of the liability factor - unless the people involved signed a waiver…

In response to the OP- I would really think it would matter on the local laws and the owner of the property.

My wife and I had to sleep in our car in the Denny’s parking lot in San Diego on two occasions. One time was because our hotel overbooked, and another was because we planned on heading back home but too tired to drive.

No one ever bothered us, we went in, had food, and then slept from around 1am to sunrise. It was a busy parking lot though, right off the freeway just as you enter San Diego, so I don’t think many people paid attention to us.


Best place to sleep for a couple of hours if you’re on a long trip. The Supercenters are open 24/7, have good lighting, people around, and security cameras. Also bathrooms! I’ve slept there many times when I just couldn’t finish a 12-hour drive after a full workday (heh… not my normal commute), and the only problem I’ve ever had was with the parking lot sweeper truck making one helluva racket at 1 AM while I was trying to get my snooze on.

Even though I don’t drive, I have often thought about getting an SUV big enough for a mattress in the back (maybe a tent-like thing that attaches) and just puttering about in it for six months, sleeping in it at campgrounds or empty fields or whatever. I expect there are laws about some locations and situations, though.

I’ve slept in my car a lot in my carefree homeless days :slight_smile:

You kind of have to look at it from the cop’s angle. If it’s dark and he see someone in a car, it’s not a usual thing, for all he knows you could be a dead body. So they are going to at least tap on the window to make sure you are not dead.

Then they want to make sure you’re not drunk.

I always got around the sleep issue by working nights. No one ever bothered me sleeping in a car during the day.