Is It Legal to Sleep in Your Car? (2019 Update)
Need to spend the night in your car or don't want to pay for a hotel? Find out here if you can legally sleep in your car.
Perhaps you’re on a road trip, or you just need somewhere to sleep for the night. Sleeping in your vehicle can seem like an attractive option, but the legalities surrounding this vary from State to State.
The laws surrounding this question are a balance between the right of a person to do what they want in their private property, but also how that property interacts with public spaces such as roads and carparks.
In this article, we’ll discuss whether it’s legal to get some shut-eye in your car.
Is there a Federal Law?
Currently, there are no federal Australian laws that make it illegal for an individual to sleep in their car. Australian Federal Law doesn’t often extend into criminal or motor vehicle jurisdictions, so the law surrounding this is State-based.
The absence of federal laws means that states and local governments have the power to decide on whether they will allow nomads to sleep in their cars. As a result, the laws differ from state to state, and perhaps even from city to city. Make sure you research before you hit the sack, or in your case, the car seat.
New South Wales
In New South Wales, sleeping in your car is perfectly legal.
The NSW Local Government Act concludes that it is legal for someone to sleep or live in a vehicle on a street, so long as parking is permitted on that road. In fact, the NSW Roads and Maritime Services encourages those driving long distances to stop and sleep. However, anyone can sleep in their car, not just those driving long distances.
Recently, when the City of Sydney received complaints from the Marrickville residents about backpackers camping in parking lots, the council acknowledged that what was occurring was legal. However, in response, the council introduced new parking laws within Marrickville to prevent people from parking long term. Councils generally have also since introduced stricter time limits on parking to discourage people from sleeping in their cars for long periods. A good example of this are streets located near a beach – most have parking limits so that people don’t camp there in their cars. Similar laws apply in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).
On a state level, sleeping in your car is legal in Victoria. However, many councils are attempting to introduce by-laws to make it illegal. Local laws prohibiting such conduct already exist in Victorian municipalities such as Hobsons Bay, Greater Geelong, or Manningham. More Councils are taking this approach, as more have introduced laws which make sleeping in your car illegal.
Queensland has the strictest laws in relation to sleeping in a car.
The City of Brisbane Act 2010 concludes that camping is strictly prohibited unless it is carried out in a designated campground. This includes sleeping in your vehicle on any road or park. If you’re making a pit stop in Brisbane, make sure to get some overnight accommodation. Those who are caught sleeping in their car will face a hefty fine and may even be prosecuted. The rules are similar in the Northern Territory, where camping in a public place is ‘actively discouraged’.
In Western, South Australia, and Tasmania, sleeping in your car is not technically illegal. However, there are strict limitations on parking at beaches and in parks or reserves.
Sleeping in your vehicle after alcohol consumption
It’s a different situation if you are sleeping in your car after having consumed alcohol. It’s common knowledge that drink driving (a Blood Alcohol Concentration of above 0.05) is illegal and serious penalties apply. However, even if you’re not actually driving your vehicle, you may still get sanctioned for drink driving. There have been cases where someone intending to sleep in their car has been penalised. This is because sitting in the driver’s seat and having car keys in your possession is enough to demonstrate an intention to drink drive. This generally applies nation-wide.
Sleeping in your car is legal in many places in Australia, however places which attract more tourists and backpackers have stricter laws. To be safe, you should contact the Local Council of the place where you intend to rest to find out whether you’ll be breaking any local laws by sleeping there.
Anthony is a Paralegal working in our content team, which writes free legal guides aimed at improving public awareness of legal and business issues. Anthony has an interest in simplifying complex legal problems in order to allow people to understand their legal dilemmas.