The legality of sleeping in your car is a nuanced topic, heavily influenced by a myriad of factors including location/country you're in, ownership of the land where the car is parked, local laws, and the specific circumstances under which one chooses to sleep in their vehicle.
When is it legal to park in your car?
Typically, it is absolutely fine to sleep in your car as long as you are legally parked. So be that in a designated layby, rest stop or motorway services and without violating any parking restrictions. Most places like car parks and service stations tend to have a maximum stay of 2-3 hours, and some car parks can sometimes get locked at certain times, so sleeping in these places are not recommended.
When is it illegal to sleep in your car?
It only becomes illegal to sleep in your car if you are causing an obstruction, have pulled over in the hard shoulder, on double yellow lines or are under the influence on drugs and/or alcohol. It doesn’t matter that you aren’t driving, had no intention of driving or just simply sleeping. If you are sleeping in the vehicle with the keys in the glovebox and sleep on the backseat under the influence, you could potentially be found in breach of section 4 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 – “drunk in charge of a motor vehicle” and will face a fine and 10 points on your licence.
When sleeping overnight in your vehicle, you need to ensure whether the land is public or private as all land in the UK is owned by someone. You will be able to recognise whether sleeping in that space overnight is permitted, and you should be able to do so by nearby signs. In most cases, if the land is private, you will need to obtain permission from the landowner before parking there.
What about wild camping?
Wild camping is where you park up and stay overnight when on the road. It is very popular in Scotland as there are special routes permitted to do this on such as the NC500 and the SW300. Typically, you can stay there for one night as long as you clear up any rubbish. Problems only occur when you begin to set up awnings, chairs or stay for multiple days. Wild camping isn’t really something that occurs in England; however, there are places in some parts of Dartmoor where this is permitted; otherwise, permission from the landowner needs to be granted.
How to sleep safely in the car
As we have established, sleeping in the car is legal under most circumstances; however, you need to ensure that you are sleeping safely when sleeping in the car. There are numerous factors that come into play in order to remain safe when you sleep in a vehicle. Whether you are alone or not, make sure you text somebody your location before you go to sleep, never park on the side of a road and do not leave the car running or leave the key in the ‘on’ position overnight to use climate controls. By doing this, you can run out of fuel or even risk killing the battery and even risk breathing in harmful car emissions.