Believe it or not, whether it is illegal to sleep in your car is a fairly common question. The answer depends on a number of factors. Generally, it is ok to sleep in your car, but under certain circumstances it is illegal, which comes with criminal penalties. It could also constitute a tort, which would subject you to civil liability.
First, let’s get the obvious out of the way:
It Is Illegal to Sleep in Your Car While Driving
In a study conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) in 2014, 4.0% reported having fallen asleep while driving in the previous 30 days. As many as 7,500 motor-vehicle-accident related fatalities every year has drowsy driving as a causative factor. According to the CDC, drowsy driving decreases with age, meaning the younger you are, the more likely you are to fall asleep at the wheel. You are less likely to fall asleep if you are employed, but education level made little difference. Nevada’s rate of drowsy driving (2.8%) was lower than the average over Puerto Rico and the ten states surveyed (4.0%). Men are also more prone to sleepy driving (5.0%) than women (3.0%).
Although there is no statute expressly prohibiting falling asleep at the wheel, you can still be ticketed for failure to maintain a lane, failure to obey a traffic control device, failure to use due care, or reckless driving.
Persons with physical conditions that affect their ability to remain conscious, like sleep apnea, may not be able to obtain a license without a doctor’s note. NAC 483.370. Those who fall asleep at the wheel due to a medical condition, who are driving in violation of the limitations placed upon them, may be subjected to additional fines or penalties.
Additionally, if you fall asleep while driving and hit fatally hit someone, you could be charged with manslaughter.
You Cannot Sleep in Your Car While Trespassing
This is another obvious one, but whether your actions constitute trespassing may not be as obvious. The rule on trespassing is found in NRS 207.200. In sum, if you are on someone else’s land, either (1) “with intent to vex or annoy the owner or occupant,” or (2) you remain after having been warned not to trespass, you have committed a misdemeanor crime.
Being “warned not to trespass” includes oral warnings not to enter or invitations to leave, no trespassing signs, or a fence, among others.
If you are going to pull over somewhere and spend the night in your car, make sure you are somewhere you can’t be accused of trespassing (like a public parking lot or a private parking lot open to the public), or that you have consent from the owner.
If You’re a Minor, Sleeping in a Car May Be a Violation of Curfew
Both Las Vegas and Clark County have curfew ordinances that prohibit minors (those younger than 18) from loitering, idling, wandering, strolling, or being upon, in or about any public streets, avenues, alleys, or other public places. The curfew is effective Sunday through Thursday from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from midnight to 5:00 a.m.. Curfew begins at 9:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday on the Strip.
Youth who are lawfully employed and working or accompanied by a parent or guardian are exempted from curfew.
You Could Get a DUI for Sleeping in Your Car While Intoxicated
Most people know that it is a crime (and a very bad idea) to drive while intoxicated. What may be less obvious is that in Nevada, you can also get a DUI for being in a parked car while intoxicated.
NRS 484C.110 criminalizes driving or being “in actual physical control of a vehicle” while “under the influence of intoxicating liquor.” It’s the being in actual physical control of a vehicle that gets complicated.
The Nevada Supreme Court in Rogers v. State, 773 P.2d 1226, 1229 (Nev. 1989), articulated a standard for determining whether someone is in actual physical control of a vehicle sufficient to get a DUI even when not driving the vehicle. According to the court, a person is in actual physical control of a vehicle “when the person has existing or present bodily restraint, directing influence, domination, or regulation of the vehicle.” The factors to be considered in this analysis include the following:
where, and in what position, the person is found in the vehicle;
whether the vehicle’s engine is running or not;
whether the occupant is awake or asleep;
whether, if the person is apprehended at night, the vehicle’s lights are on;
the location of the vehicle’s keys;
whether the person was trying to move the vehicle or moved the vehicle;
whether the property on which the vehicle is located is public or private; and
whether the person must, of necessity, have driven to the location where apprehended.
If you are intoxicated and realize you should not be driving, the safest decision is to not to go near your vehicle.
However, if you are not intoxicated, not driving, not trespassing, and not a minor without your parents, chances are your in-your-car overnighter will be legal.
Zachariah B. Parry is an attorney and founding partner at the law firm Parry & Pfau and is an adjunct professor who teaches torts, contracts, and Nevada practice and procedure for UNLV’s paralegal program. He can be reached at 702-912-4451 or firstname.lastname@example.org.