Yes, all states allow you to sleep in your car at a rest area. The question is for how long, and can you do so overnight? Some states have specific time limits on stay, but many have no limits at all. Some states prohibit overnight parking but most states don’t. Because all rest areas are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it’s totally legal to arrive at a rest area at night and remain until you are able to continue driving safely.
Can You Sleep in Your Car at a Rest Area?
Even though each state is different, they all permit people to sleep in their cars at rest areas. While no state has banned sleeping at rest areas, no state has specifically permitted it either.
All states are in agreement that rest areas are intended to “combat driver fatigue”. They all would prefer you to take advantage of their rest areas to get some rest so that you can resume driving safely. But some states limit you to as little as two hours while others allow as much as twenty-four hours. About half of the states have no time limits at all.
All Rest Areas Are Open 24/7
Because all rest areas are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, you are entirely within your rights to arrive at night and stay there for as long as the law allows. In most cases, this means being able to remain there until the following morning.
This effectively permits “overnight parking”. However a handful of states have placed short time limits on parking at rest area, as little as two to three hours. This could force most people from being able to get enough sleep. It’s still unheard of for law enforcement to kick someone out who is too sleepy to continue driving. As long as you are there trying to sleep, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be asked to leave.
Where you will run into trouble with the law is if you remain at a rest area far too long, or are spending too much time having fun.
What is the Difference Between Overnight Parking and Camping?
Camping is largely the real issue with states when it comes to rest areas. Most states consider camping to be a form of recreation, whereas overnight parking is a matter of highway safety.
They don’t mind drowsy drivers using rest areas to get some sleep, because after all that’s exactly what rest areas are for. What they don’t want are people using rest areas for excessive recreation.
But to make matters more confusing, nearly all states have implemented recreational facilities at their rest areas. They have installed picnic tables, cooking grills, children’s play areas, pet exercise areas, short hiking trails, scenic viewing areas, museums, art installations, even fishing decks. So while states are trying to discourage camping at their rest areas, they actually do encourage visitors to enjoy a wide variety of fun.
The fine line is drawn when the sun sets. States don’t want you to continue those outdoor activities through the evening and into the following morning. They don’t want to see people sleeping in tents, sleeping on the grass, campfires burning all through the night, nor people making noise into the late hours. As soon as it gets dark, they want you put all of your stuff inside your vehicle and for you and your passengers to stay inside as well. At that point, they expect you to get rested and get on your way.
States Have Time Limits on How Long You Can Stay
About half of the states have adopted some kind of maximum time limit for staying at a rest area. Some states have limits as low as two (2) hours, while others have limits as long as twenty-four (24) hours. The other half of the states have no maximum time limits at all. But even with these maximum time limits, it’s rare for Highway Patrol or State Police to enforce them. In most cases, states want drowsy drivers to get the sleep they need to continue driving safely. It’s only when someone has stayed far too long that law enforcement gets involved.
Read our state-by-state guide on maximum time limits for rest areas… “How Long Can You Stay at a Rest Area?”
How to Park Overnight at a Rest Area Without Getting into Trouble
Easy, just act like someone who is too tired to do much of anything else but sleep. As long as you spend most of your time inside your vehicle, and at least pretend like your sleeping, law enforcement is not going to bother you. Even if you do stay beyond the maximum time limit, states would prefer you to remain if you are still too tired to continue.
If you are driving or towing an RV, then stay inside your rig. Don’t roll out your awning, don’t set up your camping gear, and don’t play loud music or turn up your television too loud. At night, try to keep the lights off, or keep them dim, or put up shades to block the light.
As long as you don’t draw attention to yourself, it’s rare for law enforcement officers to kick you out for staying too long at a rest area.