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Is it illegal to sleep in your car?

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Whether you’re locked out of your home or simply need to take a break during a long drive, there are many reasons why you might take a nap in your vehicle. But is it illegal to sleep in your car?

Our guide to sleeping in your car takes a look at when and where you can have a backseat kip, what the rules are for driving with a sleeping disorder and whether the disorder affects your car insurance.

Can I sleep in my car legally?

Most of the time it’s legal to sleep in your car. In fact, Rule 91 of the Highway Code implicitly recommends it when you’re feeling tired:

“If you feel sleepy, stop in a safe place. Do not stop in an emergency area or on a hard shoulder of a motorway.”

As you can see, however, Rule 91 also states that you can’t stop just anywhere. To make sure you’re on the right side of the law when sleeping in your car, you should be:

  • Safely parked: as long as you’re obeying the parking rules of the area in which you’ve stopped and aren’t causing an obstruction, it should be legal to sleep in your car. For example, you shouldn’t nap on double yellow lines, in front of driveways or in car parks with maximum stay limits
  • Not under the influence: you shouldn’t sleep in your car if you’ve drunk enough to be above the drink-drive limit or if you’ve taken any illegal drugs

Why would I sleep in my car?

Although it might not be your first choice, there are more than a few reasons why you might end up sleeping in your car:

  • You’ve become sleepy on a long drive and need to take a break
  • You’re locked out of your home and have no way of resolving the issue until the morning
  • You’re on a road trip and don’t want to spend money on accommodations
  • You’re camping, and the weather takes a turn for the worse
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To make sure you’re sleeping in your car legally, it’s best to stop in any of the following locations:

 

  • Service areas, such as motorway service stations
  • Designated roadside rest stops
  • Designated lay-bys

 

However, you can also park up and sleep at the following locations, assuming you obey the local laws:

 

  • Public car parks, as long as you observe any time limits on how long you can stay and are aware if they are locked overnight
  • Public or residential streets, making sure there are no parking restrictions and you aren’t causing an obstruction
  • Private drives or land, but only if you have the owner’s permission

Can I sleep in my caravan?

The same rules apply to a caravan or a trailer towed by a car as they do to the car itself. That means you can sleep in your caravan if you abide by the area’s parking regulations or obtain permission from the private landowner.

After drinking, you’re allowed to sleep in your caravan or motorhome if you’re parked on a private campsite. However, if you’ve stopped for a nap at a lay-by or service station en route, you could fall foul of the law if you’ve been drinking.

Is it illegal to sleep in your car if you’re drunk?

It’s best to avoid sleeping in your car when drunk, as you can still be charged with drink-driving despite your vehicle being stationary.

According to Section 5(1)(b) of the Road Traffic Act 1988, you’re guilty of a driving offence if you’re “in charge of a motor vehicle on a road or other public place” after consuming enough alcohol to exceed the prescribed limit.

That means if you’re sleeping in your car in a public place after drinking enough that you would fail a breath test, you could face:

  • Three months’ imprisonment
  • Up to £2,500 fine
  • A possible driving ban

One consequence of such an offence is that you’ll find it harder, and more costly, to get car insurance. If you’re convicted, you may need to seek out specialist drink-driving insurance.

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Some drivers may need to sleep in their cars more than others do. If you have a sleep disorder or a medical condition that causes tiredness, you’ll likely need to inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and update your driving licence. You’ll also need to let your car insurance provider know. 

 

You have to tell the DVLA if you have the following:

 

  • Confirmed moderate or severe obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome (OSAS) with excessive sleepiness
  • Narcolepsy
  • Cataplexy
  • Any other sleep condition that has caused excessive sleepiness for at least three months (this includes suspected or confirmed mild OSAS)

 

If you don’t inform the DVLA of these conditions, you could be fined up to £1,000. Not disclosing this information may also result in prosecution if you’re involved in an accident and may invalidate your car insurance.

How to sleep in your car if you must

If you do need to sleep in your car, following these tips will hopefully allow you to safely and legally catch some Zs:

  • Carefully choose where you park: while you might be tempted to choose a quiet area away from blazing street lights, you might also consider a busier area to feel a bit safer
  • Get in the back: not only will you likely have a more comfortable night’s sleep in the backseat, but it may also stop people from knocking on your driver’s window and asking what you’re doing. An alternative may be to fully recline in the passenger seat
  • Crack a window: this will allow some fresh air to get into your car
  • Lock your doors: you’ll be safer if you lock your car before you go to sleep
  • Carry earplugs, a pillow and a blanket: if the need to sleep in your car is a frequent occurrence, carrying earplugs, a pillow and a blanket in your car can make your sleep a bit more peaceful

Is it illegal to sleep in your car FAQs

As long as you’re legally parked and haven’t drunk enough alcohol to fail a breath test, you can sleep in the front seat of your car. However, it might not be the most comfortable spot to doze in.

The backseat or a fully reclined passenger seat is likely a better option than nodding off with your feet jammed in next to the brake pedal.

Passers-by are also more likely to spot you sleeping upright in the front seat than they are when you’re fully reclined. This may mean your sleep gets interrupted by people knocking on your window to see if you’re okay.

If you fall asleep at the wheel, you could face a number of careless or dangerous driving charges. For example, if you caused death by dangerous driving, you could face:

  • Up to 14 years imprisonment
  • An unlimited fine
  • Disqualification from driving for at least two years
  • Between three and 11 penalty points

The DVLA estimates that up to 20 per cent of accidents on motorways and other monotonous road types may be caused by drivers falling asleep behind the wheel.

There are a few steps you can take to avoid driving while tired:

  • Make sure you rest properly before setting out on a long journey
  • If you have a long drive, plan 15-minute breaks for every two hours of driving time
  • If possible, share the driving on a long journey between multiple drivers. This could involve adding someone as a named driver to your insurance policy before a road trip or taking out temporary car insurance on another person’s vehicle
  • When you start to feel sleepy, find a safe place to park up and rest as soon as possible
  • Try to avoid long trips early in the morning – drivers are 20 times more likely to fall asleep at the wheel at 6am, for example, according to road safety charity, Brake

Connor Campbell

Finance Writer

Connor Campbell is an experienced personal and business finance writer who has been producing online content for almost a decade. 

Connor is the personal finance expert for Independent Advisor, guiding readers through everything they need to know about car insurance and home insurance. From how much it costs to the best insurance providers in the UK, he’s here to help you find the right policy for your needs. 

In his capacity as writer and spokesperson at NerdWallet, Connor explored a number of topics close to his heart, such as the impact of our increasingly cashless society, and the hardships and heroics of British entrepreneurs. His commentary was featured in sites such as The Mirror, the Daily Express and Business Insider

At financial trading firm Spreadex, meanwhile, his market commentary was featured in outlets such as The Guardian, BBC, Reuters and the Evening Standard

Connor is a voracious reader with an MA in English, and is dedicated to making life’s financial decisions a little bit easier by doing away with jargon and needless complexity.

Molly Dyson

Editor

After growing up with a passion for writing, Molly studied journalism and creative writing at university in her home country of the United States.

She has written for a variety of print and online publications, from small town newspapers to international magazines. Most of her 10-year career since relocating to the UK has been spent in business journalism, writing and editing for admin professionals at PA Life magazine and business travel managers at Business Travel News Europe and representing those titles at conferences around the world.

Now an Editor at the Independent Advisor, Molly is an expert in a broad range of consumer topics, that include solar panels and renewables, home improvements and home insurance, and consumer technology such as home security and VPNs.

In her free time, Molly can usually be found exploring the outdoors with her husband and their young son or gardening.