America, since time immemorial, has been called the “Land of the Free”. While this statement holds true to this day, it does not necessarily imply that Americans are free as a bird. Take “sleeping in your car” for example – which has become one of the most debated concerns in the United States.
Is it illegal to sleep in your car in New Jersey? The answer to that is no. Sleeping inside your vehicle in New Jersey is perfectly fine. Unlike other states that have firmly voted against it, the state of New Jersey seemed to believe that, if done responsibly, the pros of doing so far outweigh the cons.
However, due to limited overnight parking spaces in the area, you might find it a bit difficult to do so.
To answer to the million-dollar question, “Is it illegal to sleep in your car?” would vary depending on which state you’re situated in. It’s because while some are in favor of it, others strongly oppose it.
But why do people sleep in their cars in the first place? And why is everyone making a bother about it?
Why People Sleep in their Cars
Despite the pressing issue of its legality, a lot of people still opt to sleep inside their vehicles. So, why would they risk it? These are among the reasons why:
In the 2018 US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report, it was reported that 552,830 people were homeless on a given night. The majority of them were individuals (67%) while the remaining were people with families (33%). Spending the night inside their vehicles would be a better option than staying out on the streets.
In an era of overworked and overstressed individuals, health is far too easily compromised, with more than a third of the population in the United States found to be sleep-deprived in 2018. While some of these sleep-deprived individuals choose to sleep off a day’s worth of fatigue inside their cars, others have no choice but to do so – because a home may still be a couple of miles away.
In such economically-trying times, people would, more often than not, choose to thrift out. While not necessarily homeless, they sleep inside their cars for the very intention of saving up. True enough, a lot of expenses can be eliminated by doing so – rent, utility bills, upkeep, and the like.
When it comes to fights – be it with your partner or anyone in the family – the car is your safe haven for when you have nowhere else to go. This is true for people who prefer to let their heads cool off a bit before engaging.
A lot of people insist it to be a good idea for them to sleep off their drunkenness in their vehicles after binge-drinking sessions. After all, drunk-driving is not only illegal but dangerous as well.
Say goodbye to the hotel and booking fees! This is every budget traveler’s dream. Not only do you get to save money, but you’ll also get to save time!
Why is it Banned in Some States?
Despite being in the comforts of your own vehicle, the mere fact that you’re still considerably out in the open still poses potential risks. You may become criminal targets – because truth be told, it is way easier for them to access a car than it is to access a house.
- Suspicious Activity
While low in probability, it is still possible for neighbors to see you and suspect you of malicious intent – burglary, theft, stalking, etc. This may cause unintentional panic and unnecessary commotion.
- Health Hazards
While sleeping inside the car for a few hours is generally okay, doing so for prolonged periods is not. Falling asleep with your windows up is dangerous because of possible carbon monoxide poisoning, or worse, suffocation.
Important Things to Keep in Mind
Before anything else, these are a few things you should consider if you plan to have a good night’s sleep in your vehicles:
- Find a safe (and preferably free) place to park
Now, this should be one of your top priorities when considering spending the night in your car. Don’t go parking just anywhere, especially in deserted places, town outskirts, or forests. If you can’t find anywhere free, at least make safety a priority.
- Lock your doors!
Even though this is such a no-brainer, most people forget this very vital safety precaution.
- Make sure there’s ventilation
Always ventilate! This is very important. While you must never leave your engine and air conditioning on while you sleep to make sure you don’t suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning, it is equally imperative that you leave room for enough oxygen to enter your vehicle to avoid suffocation.
You can opt to open either your windows or sunroof at least halfway open, if possible, or just enough to prevent an animal or person from trespassing inside. You can put a little piece of window screen and lodge it against whichever you’re opening.
Tips for Sleeping in Your Car
To help make it the best and most comfortable experience as possible, we’ve listed a few strategies to help you get through the night, and all the other nights after:
- Keep your electronics prepared
Make sure your mobile phones, laptops, and other gadgets are fully charged and ready for the night. This is very important, especially in emergency cases.
- Always pack your car with essentials
Make sure you have everything you need with you inside the vehicle – food, toiletries, clothes, flashlights, etc. You’re already spending the night in the car, might as well stack it up with necessities for when it’s one of those nights again.
- If possible, park near restrooms
Because when you’ve got to go, you have to go. Provided that you’re parking in a safe place already, try to be close to a restroom.
- Maintain privacy
If you can’t find a decent spot at the further end of a (safe) parking lot, improvise. Cover your windows with anything that can make for perfect blinds – sunshades, towels, blankets, newspapers, tarps, etc. The last thing you’d want is waking up to some stranger staring at you.
- Make it as comfortable as possible
If you’re going to do be doing this long-term, make sure to invest in a comfortable sleeping bag or portable bed. Nobody wants to wake up on most days with back pains. Also, make sure to keep some blankets and eye masks ready. Make sure to experiment with sleeping positions. Don’t just settle for one; try everything until you find the one that suits you best.
- Keep it clean
Not only is it unhygienic to sleep inside a dirty car, but it’s unsafe as well. While most people would say they’re down with living in the dumps, that should not be the case. Failure to keep your car clean inside could invite uninvited pests and unwanted diseases.
Safe Places to Park
The first thing you should factor in when thinking about spending the night in your car is to find the safest possible place to park it – one that gives you peace of mind for the entirety of the night.
It is generally better for you to park in crowded places: places with people up and about any time of the day. This is because aside from having other people around you, most overcrowded places also have more security in the form of CCTVs, security personnel, etc. However, always be mindful of signs or rules explicitly prohibiting overnight parking.
As much as possible, try to park in one of these places:
- Department stores/malls/groceries
- Residential neighborhoods
- Rural/highway rest stops
- 24-hour establishments
- Religious buildings
- Street parking
Where to Sleep Inside the Car
Now that you’ve found yourself a safe parking spot, it’s time to find the perfect place and position to help you sleep like a baby. However, this may vary depending on the kind of car you’re driving.
Some good options are as follows:
- Driver/Passenger Seats
These are the best seats if you want a quick getaway in the morning or middle of the night. To achieve a comfortable sleeping position, do the following:
- Recline your seat all the way.
- Push the seat as far away from the steering wheel as possible.
- Stretch your legs as far out without hitting your pedals.
- Angle your pillows in the best position for your head and neck to the sides or the back.
- Put extra pillows on your side to help prevent you from going sideways.
Here, any position is welcome as long as you’re comfortable enough.
- Open Back Space – SUVs
If you have a bigger car, then you can make use of a bigger space! For SUVs with two rows of back seats, recline both back rows fully and spread your mattress bed over both rows.
Meanwhile, for SUVs with a 1-row backseat and open space at the back, set up your mattress beds and sleeping bags.