There is a lot to unpack here. Firstly, why are you sleeping in your car? Too much to drink? You better watch those keys. Secondly, where exactly is your car parked? And thirdly, what time of the year is it? It's way different sleeping in your car in the summer as opposed to the winter, especially in Iowa, Illinois, or Wisconsin.

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Where is it legal to sleep "in general?"

  • Rest Areas
  • Public Land
  • Walmart Parking Lots
  • Costco Parking Lots
  • Camping World Parking Lots
  • Cracker Barrel Parking Lots
  • Bass Pro Shop Parking Lots
  • Truck Stops
  • Hospitals

In all the above situations, an individual should always check on city and state ordinances, ask owners or businesses for permission, and check any local signage before an extended stay takes place. This information was provided by

Credit: SIphotography
Credit: SIphotography

It's good to remember that the state of the driver also depends (and we are not talking about location). If you are intoxicated you could be charged with a DUI if your blood alcohol concentration exceeds the state’s minimum limits and you’re found asleep in the driver’s seat with the keys in the ignition. That being said, if your vehicle is completely off, your keys are on the dashboard, and you climb in the backseat to sleep, you shouldn't have any issues as those steps show you did not intend to drive after drinking.

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Is it legal to sleep in a car in Iowa?

Yes and no. In Iowa, the state of the driver, the location of the vehicle, and some form of weather condition could all play a role in determining whether an officer would take a look in on you or not. The no-brainer is to find a rest area; the only caveat; all Iowa rest areas only allow you to park for one 24-hour period. That being said, the Iowa Department of Transportation will allow you a longer stay if you have "reasonable justification" and can prove it. Find a rest area in Iowa here. Most businesses will not allow you to park and sleep at their locations. In some states, Wal-Mart is a possible rest location, but that is NOT the case in Iowa.

Credit: Iowa Department of Transportation Iowa's rest areas are mainly located along interstate 80.
Credit: Iowa Department of Transportation
Iowa's rest areas are mainly located along Interstate 80.

Is it legal to sleep in a car in Illinois?

Designated rest areas are again your best bet for a restful and uneventful night of sleep. The Illinois Department of Transportation maintains 30 rest areas and 11 welcome centers on highways throughout the state, which serve more than 36 million visitors annually. Illinois' rest areas and welcome centers are open 24 hours a day and feature restroom facilities, picnic areas, lighted walkways, maps, security cameras, parking for recreational vehicles, and commercial trucks. As with Iowa, vehicles parked at a rest site for more than a 24-hour continuous period occupied or not, may be reported to the State Patrol and the procedure for removal will begin.

Credit: Illinois Department of Transportation Tri-State Area snapshot of rest area locales.
Credit: Illinois Department of Transportation
Tri-State area snapshot of rest area locales.

Is it legal to sleep in a car in Wisconsin?

Rest areas. Seeing a common theme yet. Wisconsin has 28 safety rest areas located on the Interstate highway system and other major four-lane highways, which are open year-round. Waysides are also available during warmer months. Let it be known that it is illegal to park and sleep on public highways or adjacent lands.

Credit: Wisconsin Department of Transportation Wisconsin map show rest areas in red.
Credit: Wisconsin Department of Transportation
Wisconsin map shows rest areas in red. Limited locations in Tri-States.

What's the bottom line on sleeping in your car generally speaking?

In fact, according to most sources, there is no federal or state law that explicitly prohibits sleeping in your car. However, every municipality and jurisdiction has its own local ordinances that trump the state and federal laws. Some cities make sleeping in your car a crime by citing you for loitering. It is always illegal to sleep on another person’s property without permission because it is considered trespassing or any area where it is illegal to park in general.

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In addition, if you're caught sleeping in your car the overall fallout could vary depending on your location and the area's laws. You could face fines or jail time if it's illegal where you are. Other locations may simply ask you to move your vehicle. For those locations where it is legal to sleep in your car, an officer may simply tap on your window to ensure you're okay. This is especially true during inhospitable weather conditions, i.e. extreme heat or cold, severe storms, and other more uncommon circumstances.

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