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Can You Sleep In Your Car At a Rest Stop?

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If you’re on a long journey and feeling tired, then sleeping at a rest stop might be an option you have to consider. Whether for a few hours or overnight, you will want to take some precautions.

This article will take you through the question; can you sleep in your car at a rest stop? It will also answer other questions you might have before you stop to sleep and provide you with a state-by-state guide on the different time restrictions that exist.

Is it safe to sleep at a rest stop?

Sleeping at a rest stop might be necessary to help you feel refreshed on your long drive. However, you will want to take precautions to ensure your safety before falling asleep. If sleeping for a few hours or overnight, always make sure your vehicle is locked.

Ensure you turn your engine off and only open windows a crack. If sleeping overnight, take extra precautions. Pick a well-lit rest stop and preferably one with security cameras. Make sure you have adequate warm clothing and text a friend or relative your location before sleeping.

It is important to remember that overnight parking is not legal in all states. In some states, time restrictions apply. Even within states that allow overnight parking, different rest stops may not. Always check signs in rest stops before you decide to sleep there.

Check out our guide on places you can legally sleep overnight to avoid getting into any trouble.

How long can you sleep at a rest stop?

Most states don’t specify how long you can spend at a rest stop. However, that doesn’t mean you can stay there as long as you want. Most places will allow you to stay for 8 hours, while some may let you stay 24 hours. But it’s best to check beforehand to avoid any misunderstandings.

It’s not illegal to sleep in your car at a rest stop, although this may depend on what state you’re in. It’s generally permitted in all states but it’s to check beforehand if you’re not sure.

States that allow overnight parking in rest areas

There are only eight states that don’t allow overnight parking in rest areas: Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. All the other 42 states allow overnight parking.

What are the advantages of sleeping at a rest stop?

Sleeping at a rest stop could be unsafe and often it is difficult to get some privacy. Some may be in areas with high crime rates with limited or no security. You will want to take precautions to stay safe. Trucks and other vehicles are likely to come and go meaning you may struggle to have a totally undisturbed sleep.

Is it safe to sleep at a rest stop for a few hours?

Yes, on a long drive sleeping for a few hours is safe and may even be necessary if you begin to feel drowsy. No matter how long you intend to sleep, you should always make sure your engine is off, with the windows only slightly open. The doors should always be locked. Set an alarm if you want to set off before it gets dark. If sleeping when it’s dark, try to pick a well-lit rest stop.

Is it safe to sleep at a rest stop overnight?

For the most part, it is safe, but it does present some risks. You will want to take precautions to look after yourself. Always ensure your engine is off and doors locked. Pick a well-lit rest stop and remove anything valuable from sight. Text a friend to let them know your location and wear warm clothing. A windshield should also be considered for privacy.

Is it safe to sleep at a rest stop when it’s dark?

Sleeping in a rest stop when it’s dark can be safe, providing you take some precautions. Lock your doors and use windshields to give you some privacy.  Always switch the engine off and never open your windows more than a crack. You may want to sleep away from the entrance to avoid being woken by other vehicles. If possible, plan to arrive before it’s dark so you can get your spot.

Is it safe to sleep at a rest stop when it’s light?

Yes, if you start to feel drowsy, pulling into a rest stop to sleep could be a safe option as long as you take some precautions. The AC and engine should always be off, even if only stopping for a short while. Sleep away from facilities to have less chance of being disturbed.

Where should you sleep at a rest stop?

If parking at a rest stop with security cameras, parking near these could help you stay safe. You may want to sleep away from facilities to have more of a chance of being undisturbed and unnoticed. Sleep away from entrances to avoid being woken by other vehicles coming and going.

When can you stay at a rest stop?

All rest stops are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. However, not all states allow overnight parking. Even then, individual rest stops may impose their own time limits. To avoid fines or the risk of being moved on, make sure you check the rules before sleeping. A road trip app, such as  Allstays, will help you to plan ahead by providing information from other users about a particular stop. 

Check out our other articles on where you can park overnight:

Top Tips

On a long journey, sleeping at a rest stop may be necessary. Sleep at a rest stop can help you to feel refreshed to continue on your journey. If sleeping for only a few hours or overnight you will need to take some precautions to look after your vehicle and protect your safety. We’ve pulled together some top tips for you below.

Secure your vehicle.

Lock your doors and ensure the windows are only open a crack.

Keep valuables out of sight.

Remove any valuables from sight. This includes, where possible, anything on the exterior of the vehicle- expensive mountain bikes for example.

Pick your rest stop carefully. 

Choose a rest stop that isn’t in the middle of nowhere. Rest stops that are well-lit and with security cameras are recommended.

Check rest stop signs.

All rest stops are open 24/7. However, different states have different rules for how long you can stop. Individual rest stops within states may have different rules so check signs before parking up to sleep.

Plan ahead 

Where possible, aim to arrive before it gets dark. The Allstays app can be useful to show you the location of rest stops on your route. This will also help you plan bathroom breaks and food stops.

Plan your pee

Pee before you sleep. It’s best not to wake up in the dead of night to walk to the facilities. 

Pack warm clothing

Warm clothing and a sleeping bag should always be on hand. Make sure your extremities are kept warm with gloves and hats. Check out our article on how to stay warm in your car overnight for more info on this topic.

Protect your privacy 

Use a windshield to give you some privacy. These will also help block out lights if sleeping overnight and in need of some restful sleep.

Text a relative

Send a quick message to a friend or family member before falling asleep to let them know your location.

Keep electronics charged

Make sure your phone and portable battery pack are charged before sleeping overnight at a rest stop.

Park away from facilities

If possible you may want to park away from the washroom facilities or any recreational facilities. You will be less disturbed and have more privacy. 

Image of Iain The Founder Of The Road Trip Expert

Iain Salter

Founder & Editor of The Road Trip Expert

Iain founded The Road Trip Expert in 2019 and continues to manage the website to this day. The inspiration to start the blog came during an extensive road trip around Europe with two friends that spanned several months and involved over 25,000km of driving. He first developed a passion for backpacking in 2014 and has had the pleasure of exploring over 60 countries.