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Is it illegal to sleep in your car?

Whether you need a power nap to get you through a monotonous drive or a cheap alternative to a hotel on a long journey, taking a rest in your car might seem like a good option. But is it illegal to sleep in your car? Read our guide to find out.

Whether you need a power nap to get you through a monotonous drive or a cheap alternative to a hotel on a long journey, taking a rest in your car might seem like a good option. But is it illegal to sleep in your car? Read our guide to find out.

Written by
Julie Daniels
Motor insurance expert
Last Updated
2 JULY 2024
6 min read
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Can you legally sleep in your car?

Sleeping in your car is perfectly legal, as long as you stick to a couple of simple 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, so sleeping in your car is sometimes necessary. Up to 20% of motorway accidents are caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel – and 4% of these are fatal.

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.

When it comes to sleeping in your car, 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 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 of the bonuses 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

It isn’t illegal to sleep in your car if you use a car park that permits overnight parking. But it’s worth checking the hourly rate to make sure you don’t wake up to an eye-watering parking fee.

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 if you need to 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, it isn’t illegal to sleep in your car if there’s no sign stating otherwise.

Private property

Unless you have permission from the landowner, you should avoid parking up to sleep on private property. You wouldn’t want to wake up to the police knocking on your car window.

If you want to park on private property, politely ask for the landowner’s permission. And don’t be offended if they say no – they’ve got the right to do so.

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 the 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.

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, 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.

According to our recent survey, 17.8% of drivers believe they can’t be fined for sleeping in their car while drunk. And nearly one in 10 (9.7%) of those think they can’t receive penalty points for this, either. Unfortunately, they’re wrong.

If you’re found to be over the legal limit while sleeping in your car, you could be prosecuted and face:

  • 10 points on your licence
  • A fine of up to £2,500
  • A discretionary disqualification from driving
  • 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.

So don’t risk it. Get a lift or a taxi home, and come back to 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. If you’re parked in a private campsite, you should be fine. 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 while 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 – digesting a lot of  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

Certain conditions can cause tiredness. Sleep apnoea, narcolepsy, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis (MS) or motor neurone disease (MND), for example, should be reported to the DVLA.

If you don’t disclose medical conditions that can affect your driving, you could be fined up to £1,000. You may also be prosecuted, if you’re involved in an accident caused by tiredness.

Find out more about driving with medical conditions.

Will I face charges if I fall asleep at the wheel?

Quite possibly, yes. If you fall asleep at the wheel and cause an accident, you could face:

  • An unlimited fine
  • A driving ban
  • Between three and 11 penalty points on your licence
  • Up to 14 years in prison.

How to sleep in your car

Sleeping in a car isn't the most comfortable experience, but it is possible. Here are some tips for getting the best rest while sleeping in your car:

  • 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 street lights if you can
  • Keep some water and snacks in your car.

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Julie Daniels - motor insurance comparison expert

Julie is passionate about delivering a great customer experience and rewarding people for saving on their insurance through our loyalty and rewards programme. She’s spoken to the media, including outlets like Sky News and Capital FM, about car and home insurance, as well as our rewards scheme.

Learn more about Julie