Falling asleep while driving causes one in five serious road accidents. But are you breaking the law if you pull over for some shut-eye?
The short answer is no, you’re not breaking the law if you sleep in your car. When it comes to taking a break, and even a sleep, the Highway Code is very clear on this.
Rule 91 of the code recommends taking a “minimum break of fifteen minutes after every two hours of driving”. And if you’re tired, it suggests a “short nap” for at least fifteen minutes.
But, before you pull up and catch 40 winks, there are some circumstances that you need to be aware of.
“It’s not an offence to sleep in your car, but it’s the location that’s important”, says Alex Garner, a Road Traffic Specialist from Stephensons Solicitors. “For example, you can’t expect to pull up and park on double yellow lines.”
When it comes to motorway driving, don’t stop on the hard shoulder for a sleep, as this is for emergencies only. Ideally find a motorway service area where you can park up for a short sleep and get a coffee.
And if you are planning to sleep in your car, stay safe. That means locking your doors, opening the window enough to allow some fresh air in, and setting the alarm on your phone so you don’t oversleep.
If you oversleep in a service station car park, you may face a fine. Some have strict limits on how long you can stay.
Where can you park up and sleep overnight?
“Whether or not you can legally stay the night in your car depends on several factors, such as where you’re parked, and whether you have any alcohol or drugs in your system” says motoring lawyer Alison Ashworth, from Ashworth Motoring Law.
It may be legal to park in residential areas, but you can still risk a disturbed night’s sleep.
“Sleeping in your vehicle is likely to attract attention”, warns Alison Ashworth. “Worried residents may fear for your safety, or their own, and call the police. And trespassing onto private land could lead to a rude awakening from the police if you’re reported.”
Be careful with car parks too. Some may lock their gates overnight, or have a 24-hour charging system in place – which could make for an expensive night’s stay.
Other car parks implement local bylaws that prevent overnight stays, especially in town centres or coastal locations.
Sleeping off a big night out
If you have too much to drink and can’t get a taxi home, you might think the sensible thing is to sleep if off in your car.
However, if the police catch you, you can be prosecuted for being “drunk in charge of a motor vehicle”, says Alex Garner.
This is an offence under section 4 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. “The penalty is a minimum ten penalty points and a fine”, says Alex Garner, “and could mean a jail term along with a twelve month ban.”
Lorries and caravans
It’s not uncommon to see lorries parked up in a lay-by late at night. And, as with any vehicle, the rules are the same when it comes to parking and sleeping.
However, larger vehicles may find it harder to find safe parking. Many car parks have height restrictions, and local bylaws may prevent certain vehicles – like caravans or motorhomes – from parking overnight.