Is it illegal to sleep in my car?

Whether it’s a power nap to get you through a monotonous drive or a cheap alternative to a hotel on a long journey, you may be considering having a rest in your car. Read our guide to find out how you can sleep legally in your car and what you need to avoid.

Whether it’s a power nap to get you through a monotonous drive or a cheap alternative to a hotel on a long journey, you may be considering having a rest in your car. Read our guide to find out how you can sleep legally in your car and what you need to avoid.

Alex Hasty
Insurance and finance expert
6
minute read
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Last Updated 6 OCTOBER 2022

Can I legally sleep in my car?

Yes, it’s perfectly legal to sleep in your car, as long as you stick to a couple of rules:

  • You must be safely parked, and not in violation of any parking restrictions
  • You mustn’t be above the drink drive limit or under the influence of drugs.

It’s dangerous to drive tired and sometimes it’s necessary to sleep in your car. Up to a fifth of motorway accidents are caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel and these types of crashes are 50% more likely to result in death or serious injury.

If you start feeling sleepy while you’re driving, you need to find a safe place to pull over and have a break. Whether that means taking a nap or even settling down for a good long sleep, you should listen to your body.

It’s where you stop that’s key. You need to make sure that you’re parked legally, in a safe place, and that you’re not breaking any parking restrictions.

Where can I sleep in my car?

Motorway service stations

Never try to stop for a break on the hard shoulder of a motorway. They’re there for emergency use only in case there’s an accident or a breakdown. Instead, pull into the nearest service station or rest area.

Be aware that service stations often limit how long you can stay – typically two to three hours. Some service stations use number plate recognition software to keep track of who’s coming and going, so it’s a good idea to set an alarm so you don’t oversleep. One bonus of using service stations for naps is that you can treat yourself to a strong cup of coffee and an energy-boosting snack before you start driving again.

Car parks

You can stop for a nap in a car park as long as overnight parking is allowed, but check you’re not going to be charged an exorbitant hourly fee for taking forty winks. And keep an eye out for any signs saying the car park is closed between certain hours – you don’t want to end up locked in.

Residential areas

You can legally park in residential areas and get some shut-eye but be aware that you may attract unwanted attention from concerned neighbours. And you’ll obviously want to avoid any double yellow lines. Take care not to obstruct any pavements or block access to people’s driveways - and don’t park in passing areas.

Public areas

Many local authorities have restrictions on camping and overnight parking in town centres or at local beauty spots. Keep an eye out for signs, as you could face a fine that’s much higher than a hotel room if you break the rules. Generally speaking though, if there’s no sign you should be fine.

Private property

Avoid parking up to sleep on private property unless you have permission from the landowner first. No one likes waking up to the police knocking on your window to charge you with trespassing.

What about sleeping in my motorhome?

It’s fine to sleep in your motorhome if you’re careful where you park. Likewise, there’s nothing to stop you from sleeping in your car if you’re travelling around on a shoestring budget and you don’t want to fork out for a hotel.

In general if you’re respectful, discreet and don’t flaunt any obvious no camping or no overnight stay signs, you’re unlikely to encounter any problems. Arrive late, leave early, don’t leave any litter and you should be fine.

If you want to park on private property, ask for the landowner’s permission in a friendly, courteous way. Don’t be offended if they say no – they’ve got the right to do so.

Don’t sleep in your car if you’re drunk

Whatever you do, don’t sleep in your car if you’re over the legal driving limit for alcohol. It may seem like a good idea to sleep it off in your car if you have one too many on a night out and end up over the limit but if the police find you, they can charge you with being drunk in charge of a motor vehicle in a public place – even if you’re not driving.

If you’re prosecuted, you could face 10 points on your licence, disqualification from driving, a £2,500 fine and up to three months in prison. It doesn’t matter if you’re curled up in the back seat with the keys safely in your pocket, you could still be charged. Don’t risk it. Get a lift or a taxi home and come back for your car the next day when you’re completely sober.

Be aware that this rule also applies if you’re sleeping in your motorhome and end up over the limit. It shouldn’t be a problem if you’re parked in a private campsite, but if you’re hoping to spend the night in a pub car park after a boozy evening, you’re at risk of being charged.

Read our information about drink driving.

How can I avoid driving tired?

It’s true what the signs say, tiredness can kill. Follow these tips to stay safe and aware when driving:

  • Get a good night’s sleep before a long drive
  • Don’t drive if you feel too tired – it’s better to cancel an appointment than to put yourself and others at risk
  • Take breaks – the Highway Code recommends taking a break of at least 15 minutes after two hours of driving.
  • If you do feel sleepy when driving, find somewhere safe to stop, take a 15-minute power nap, have a strong cup of coffee and make sure you feel awake before you head off again.
  • Avoid driving immediately after a big meal – the processes involved in digesting your food can make you sleepy.
  • Be mindful of any medication that can cause drowsiness – check the side effects on the label and monitor how your body reacts to it before you drive.

If you have any conditions that cause tiredness, such as sleep apnoea, narcolepsy, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis (MS) or motor neurone disease (MND), you’ll need to report them to the DVLA. If you don’t disclose any medical condition that affects your driving, you could be fined up to £1,000 and you may be prosecuted if you’re involved in an accident as a result.

Find out more about driving with medical conditions.

How to get a (relatively) good night’s sleep in your car

If you do end up spending the night in your car, here's a few tips for staying safe and getting the best rest possible:

  • Lock the doors
  • Open a window slightly so you get some fresh air
  • Don’t leave the engine running
  • Set an alarm so you don’t oversleep
  • Head to the back seat – you’ll be more comfy and you’re less likely to have someone tapping on your window to check you’re okay
  • Keep a blanket, pillow and some warm clothes in your car if you’re heading on a long drive
  • Find somewhere quiet to park, away from streetlights if you can
  • Keep some water and snacks in your car.

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