Whether you’re on a long road trip and need a quick snooze, or any other reason why you choose to sleep in your car, it is not a criminal offence to sleep in your car. What can be illegal, however, is where you are parked, how long you are parked for, and whether you are intoxicated or not. All of your questions about sleeping in your car – from how to determine where to sleep, to what you should do if the police wake you up – will be covered in this article. As always, if you are charged for circumstances that involve sleeping in your car, such as having care or control of a vehicle while intoxicated, contact a criminal defence lawyer right away. Call Pyzer Criminal Lawyers today and book a free consultation.
Is it Illegal to Sleep in your Car in Canada?
There is no federal law that prohibits sleeping in your car. Yet in some provinces, territories, and municipalities, getting some shut-eye in your car is illegal depending where you are parked. For instance, in Toronto, an unsigned three-hour maximum parking limit is in force on public roads, unless there is signage that indicates otherwise (i.e.: maximum one-hour parking, maximum 15 minute parking etc.). Some Toronto residential streets have a permit parking program, where only residents with a displayed permit can park on for an extended period of time. Temporary on-street parking under the permit parking program can be purchased by residents or guests for a week, 24 hours, or 48 hours.
It is illegal to park and sleep in your car in Toronto if you are parked in an area with any of the following signs:
No Parking – Motorists are only permitted to load or unload passengers or merchandise.
No Standing – Motorists are only permitted to receive and discharge passengers.
No Stopping – Motorists are generally not permitted to stop for any reason except to avoid conflict with other traffic or in compliance with the directions of a constable or other police officer or of a traffic control sign or signal.
In Toronto, there is also no parking in areas that say No Standing or No Stopping on sidewalks and parking on boulevards, in front of fire hydrants, in fire routes, rush hour routes and permit parking streets.
When is it Illegal to Sleep in your Car?
Sleeping in your car while intoxicated can be considered a crime. Under section 320.14(1) of the Criminal Code, it is illegal to operate or have “care or control” of a motor vehicle while the person’s ability to operate the vehicle is impaired to any degree by alcohol or a drug, or by a combination of alcohol and a drug. That means if you have turned your car off to sleep in it because you are too drunk to drive, you can still be arrested for being in care or control.
The Supreme Court of Canada in R v Boudreaultruled that “care or control” of a vehicle means:
an intentional course of conduct associated with a motor vehicle;
by a person whose ability to drive is impaired, or whose blood alcohol level exceeds the legal limit;
in circumstances that create a realistic risk of danger to persons or property.
As a matter of law, a person found in the driver’s seat of a vehicle will be presumed to have care of control of the vehicle, even if the car is off. It is up to the accused to prove to the court that they had no intention to drive in order to not be found guilty of driving while intoxicated.
If an officer finds you sleeping in your car while you are drunk, and your keys are accessible to you, you can be charged for care and control even though your car is parked and turned off. For instance, an Ontario driver had the following experience when he decided to sleep in his car instead of drink and drive:
“I went to a party I wasn't planning to drink at so I drove. One thing led to another and I drank. I didn't know the homeowner so I didn't want to crash there so I slept in my car in the condo parking lot. I knew about care and control so I hid my keys in a bush. Turns out the parking lot is also used as a church parking overflow lot and there was a funeral in the morning. So the church called the cops on me without even trying to wake me. When the cop got there I described what happened. He laughed and agreed I made the right choice BUT he warned me that because I knew where the keys were hidden I could still be charged. He wasn't going to charge me but he said he could.”
If you are found driving or having care or control of a vehicle while intoxicated, the police can either charge you with an offence outlined in the Highway Traffic Act or the Criminal Code. If you are charged under either the Highway Traffic Act or the Criminal Code, Contact Pyzer Criminal Lawyers to help you understand your charges, and determine the best defence.
Impairment Penalties Under Ontario’s Driving Laws
Under Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act, police can request a blood or breath sample from a person in the driver’s seat, or who they believe has care or control of the vehicle.
The penalties apply for all drivers who:
Have a blood alcohol concentration over .08 (alcohol only);
Fail or refuse to comply with a demand for alcohol or drug testing; or
Fail test by drug recognition expert (drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol).
Immediate 90-day Suspension
7-day Vehicle Impoundment
$287 Licence Reinstatement Fee
Education and Treatment Program
Ignition Interlock for six months
The tolerance and penalties for young and novice drivers are different. Drivers who are 21 or under and novice drivers of any age, with a G1, G2, M1, or M2 licence, are prohibited from having any presence of alcohol or drugs when they are behind the wheel of a vehicle.
Impairment Penalties for all Drivers Under Criminal Code Laws
If a driver is charged and convicted of driving while intoxicated, contrary to section 320.14(1) of the Criminal Code, they will have a criminal record.
It is also illegal for a person to refuse or fail to comply with a demand from a police officer to check blood alcohol level under section 320.15(1) of the Criminal Code.
Operating or having control of a vehicle while intoxicated (section 320.14(1)), and refusing or failing to comply with demands (section 320.15(1)) are hybrid offences. That means the Crown can charge someone with an indictable offence, or as a summary offence. Indictable offences are more serious with harsher penalties. Summary offences are less severe with less harsh penalties. Punishment in the Criminal Code is found under section 320.19(1).
The Government of Canada has provided the following chart on the penalties for impaired driving under the Criminal Code:
Having a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) at or over 80mg per 100ml of blood within 2 hours of driving
Mandatory minimum: $1000 fine
Maximum: 10 years Imprisonment
Mandatory minimum: 30 days imprisonment
Maximum: 10 years Imprisonment
Mandatory minimum: 120 days imprisonment
Maximum: 10 years Imprisonment
Having 5ng or more of THC per ml of blood within 2 hours of driving
Any detectable level of LSD, psilocybin, psilocin, ketamine, PCP, cocaine, methamphetamine, 6-mam within 2 hours of driving
Having 5mg or more of GHB per 1 litre of blood within 2 hours of driving
Having a BAC of 50mg per 100ml of blood + 2.5ng or more of THC per 1ml of blood within 2 hours of driving
Refusal to comply with demand for sample
Minimum: $2000 fine
Drug-impared driving- Summary conviction
Having over 2ng but less than 5ng of THC per ml of blood within 2 hours of driving
Minimum: $1000 fine
Impared driving causing bodily harm
Summary conviction: Maximum 2 years imprisonment less a day
Indictment: Maximum 14 years imprisonment
Impared driving causing death
Indictment: Maximum life imprisonment
First offence + BAC of 80-119mg
Mandatory minimum $1000 fine
First offence + BAC of 120-159mg
Mandatory minimum $1500 fine
First offence + BAC of 160mg or more
Mandatory minimum $2000 fine
Do Parking Laws and Sleeping in Car Laws Tend to Apply to all Vehicles?
Generally, parking laws apply to all vehicles, including RVs. In larger cities however, such as Toronto, there may be additional parking rules for oversized vehicles. Be aware of any additional parking rules for oversized vehicles in cities by referring to local bylaws. If you are unable to find any bylaws, but want to make sure you are allowed to park in a certain place, contact the city, or, if after hours, the local police non-emergency line.
Where is it Legal to Sleep in Your Car?
Rest areas: many rest areas allow drivers to park to sleep for a limited amount of time. Parking and sleeping for a full night’s sleep may be prohibited, however.
Campgrounds: this option might cost you, but it is cheaper than staying in a hotel and might be safer than some areas in big cities.
24-hour Walmart: always call and check or inquire with the Walmart beforehand. Some may prohibit using their parking lot to sleep in, while others permit all vehicles including RVs.
Private property with permission: if you know someone who has private property you can get permission from them to sleep in your car overnight.
Truck stops: most truck stops are considered private property and allow overnight parking, but always follow the signs posted around the area.
24-hour retailers: some stores are known to allow their customers to park and sleep overnight in their parking lot. Call and ask permission from stores if there is no signage that clearly enables overnight parking.
Your own private property: you should not have a problem sleeping in your car on your own property. However, if you are parked on the street, make sure you are parked on the right side of the street and following all residential parking laws.
Where is it Illegal to Sleep in your Car?
City streets with signage indicating certain hours where your car cannot be parked
Shopping center parking lots, unless you have permission
On the side of a highway
On a business or residential road facing the wrong way
How Should I Appear if the Police Wake me up?
When you are not intoxicated and are searching for a place to sleep in your car, try your best to use common sense and determine whether there is any signage or bylaws that prohibit you from parking there overnight. If you are intoxicated, however, and your car is in a prohibited area, you will need to get a sober friend to move your car, or call a driving service who can get both you and your car home safe. Never drive while you are drunk to move your car anywhere, even if you plan on sleeping in it. If you have to deal with a ticket or towed car in the morning, that’s better than having your licence suspended for 90-days and/or having a criminal record.
In the event where police wake you up in your car, and you are sober, let them tell you why they are tapping on your window. It could be that they’re checking to make sure you are ok, or to tell you that you actually cannot park there. Be honest and tell them you just needed to get some sleep, and that you did your best to make sure you could park where you are. If you happen to be in an illegal spot, most of the time the police will let you know where you can go instead.
If you are intoxicated, on the other hand, and the police wake you up while you are sleeping in your car, you can be charged with having care or control of your vehicle. Try to sleep in the backseat or the passenger’s seat, and put your keys in your trunk. That way, police are less likely to charge you for having care or control of the vehicle while intoxicated.
It is also a criminal offence to refuse to fail to comply with law enforcement orders when they are demanding a breath or blood sample. Again, use common sense and be respectful to law enforcement so that you don’t end up being charged for having care or control of your vehicle while sleeping.
Is Sleeping in Your Car Safe?
If you are in a city you don’t know, it might be worth it to find out what neighborhoods are safer than others to park and sleep overnight. Some cities have crime statistic maps where you can see the rate of crime in a certain area. If you are unaware whether your location should be safe to sleep in, contact the police non-emergency line and ask.
Other considerations when sleeping in your car include:
Don’t leave the engine running
Protect your personal belongings by hiding them from plain view
Be careful of wildlife in the wilderness
Be aware of the temperature if it is cold outside
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you Sleep in Walmart Parking Lots?
If the Walmart is located inside of a shopping center, contact the shopping center to see if you can use their parking lot overnight to sleep. If the Walmart is not located inside of a mall, and there are no signs in the parking lot prohibiting overnight stays, you are typically allowed to sleep overnight. It is always best to call and ask beforehand, if possible.
Can you Sleep in Canadian Tire Parking Lots?
Some Canadian Tire locations will allow you to sleep in their parking lot, and others do not. Call beforehand to see whether they allow overnight stays.
How can I Find out Which Areas I’m Allowed to Park in?
Most parking lots will have signage prohibiting overnight stays if you are not allowed to park there. Alternatively, checking the city bylaws will help you decide where it’s best for you to park on public streets. When it’s getting late and you just want to pull over quickly and shut your eyes, try your best to follow the signage around you. You can always call the city’s non-emergency police line if you have questions about where you are.
You may have to make a call or two, or double and triple check the signage, but sleeping in your car is not illegal. Make sure you check all of the signs and bylaws where you are thinking of parking and sleeping for the night. If you happen to be charged with care and control for sleeping while intoxicated in your car, it is in your best interest to hire an experienced criminal defence lawyer. Contact Pyzer Criminal Lawyers to defend your rights.
Summer Student and JD Candidate
Jenessa is completing her Juris Doctor degree at the University of Ottawa where she will graduate in 2022. Originally from Kelowna, she completed her undergraduate degree at the University of British Columbia Okanagan with a major in psychology and a minor in sociology.