Is It Safe to Sleep at Rest Stops?

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When you’re tired and need a place to sleep, you’ll look for just about anywhere to pull over and get some sleep. Approximately 100,000 accidents each year are attributed to drowsy driving.

Rest stops are convenient locations for drivers to stretch their legs, use the restroom, and rest. So can you sleep at rest stops? Is it safe to stop for a quick cat nap?

Let’s find out!

Can You Sleep at Rest Stops Legally?

The purpose of rest stops is to serve as a haven for drivers to stay safe while on the road. No states have banned sleeping at rest areas.

However, no state encourages it either. Rules and regulations regarding how long you can park at a rest stop vary. Always know the rules for where you hope to stop.

If that location has restrictions, you’ll likely see a sign or two indicating the amount of time you can legally park before getting back on the road.

Law enforcement and other authorities want to ensure you’re safe while driving. So as long as you feel rested and behave yourself, you likely won’t face any issues if you stop to sleep for a few hours.

A diagram of the United States showing which states allow sleeping at rest areas

Is It Safe to Sleep at Rest Stops?

Safety is always critical while traveling. Despite what you might have heard, rest stops can be just as safe as any other type of camping location or overnight stop.

Some places are safer than others, and you should never stop at a site where you feel uncomfortable. If you arrive at a location and feel unsafe, go somewhere else.

Or minimize the time you spend at that location before getting back on the road.

Have bad things happened at rest stops? Yes. Do they happen so often that you should avoid sleeping at rest stops while traveling? Absolutely not.

Rest stops can be safe and convenient places for you to get some shut-eye while traveling.

Do Rest Stops Have Security?

Rest stops don’t have any consistency regarding security. Some will have security present 24/7. However, others may only do checks at night or during specific hours.

It’s not uncommon for a rest stop to have video surveillance and no active security on-site.

While some locations may have no security guards, local law enforcement commonly drives through and patrols, especially at night.

Police officers or highway patrols aim to keep their community safe, even for those just passing through.

Rest Stop Safety Tips

No matter how safe you feel when you pull into a rest stop, you can do a few things to maximize your safety. Let’s look at some rest-stop safety tips to keep in mind if you need a place to sleep.

A close up of rest stop area rules, a place where you can sleep at while on the road

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Rest stops can be very crowded and noisy, especially if large trucks come and go. Make sure you remain observant of your surroundings and others in the area.

Eliminate distractions like headphones or cell phones while walking to and from your vehicle and the facilities.

Be mindful of other vehicles and anyone loitering that may look suspicious. People up to no good look for an easy target and could spend a long time waiting for a victim.

Remain as alert as possible to minimize the chances of any bad encounters. You should also look out for others. If you see suspicious activity, report it immediately. 

Secure Your Possessions

Secure your possessions when stopping to use the restroom or sleep for a few hours at a rest stop. Don’t leave expensive electronics in plain sight for anyone walking by to see.

If towing an RV, lock all of your outside storage compartments. Additionally, don’t leave anything valuable in your truck bed that could easily disappear.

A person unlocking their car door before entering to sleep at a rest stop

Park Near Security Lights

Anyone up to no good likely wants to go undetected as much as possible. Darkness is a criminal’s best friend.

You can avoid being an easy target by parking near a security light. Parking lot lights allow others to see if someone approaches your vehicle and can help you see outside.

Be mindful of how you park near the security lights too. You want to maximize your ability to see around your vehicle.

Parking beside bushes or large trees can provide shadows and cover for criminals to hide behind.

Keep in Mind: Now that you know the safe areas to sleep, let’s find safe public showers while on the road!

Use Window Covers

You don’t want anybody walking near your vehicle to peek into your windows while you sleep at a rest stop. That’s unsafe and downright creepy!

You can use window covers to reduce the visibility into your car and still peek around them to investigate any strange noises.

Window covers are great, but window tinting also works great. These can act as permanent window covers since it makes it difficult for anyone to peek inside, but they still allow you to stay safe by seeing everything outside your car.

Alternative Places to Sleep While Traveling

You can consider other options if you don’t feel comfortable sleeping at a rest stop. It is possible to stay safe and sleep while traveling. Let’s see where else you might want to park for the night.

Harvest Hosts / Boondockers Welcome

More than 6,000 businesses and community hosts are part of the Harvest Hosts and Boondockers Welcome networks. These locations all over the country can be incredible places to park for the night.

You’ll need a membership to take advantage of these spots, but they can be very safe and comfortable spots to stay.

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Harvest Hosts

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Because many of these hosts have limited space and their own schedules, availability can be unpredictable. You may need to make a reservation or request permission to stay at a host’s location. Waiting until the last minute to find a parking spot can cause problems.

Public Lands

You can find thousands of campsites on public lands all over the country. While they’re predominantly west of the Mississippi River, these areas work great.

You don’t have to pay for the campsites, and they can offer a lot of space and privacy. 

Using tools like Campendium and iOverlander can help you locate spots near you. You can also read reviews from other users to ensure the campsites will work for you or your vehicle.

An RV parked by the water near the mountains after deciding to sleep here instead of not knowing if they can sleep at a rest stop

Walmart Parking Lots

Walmart has a reputation for everyday low prices and is one of the most common businesses for travelers to park for the night. In areas that allow overnight parking, it’s not uncommon to see semis, RVs, and other vehicles parked there.

These massive parking lots sit empty most of the night, making it easy for large rigs to navigate. Some even have overnight security or regular patrols from local law enforcement.

Make sure you get permission from a store manager before retiring for the night. You don’t want to get a knock on the door because you don’t have permission to stay.

Packing up in the middle of the night is never fun. But if you can’t find a rest stop to sleep at, big box stores like these can offer an alternative.

Pro Tip: If you’re going to lot dock at Walmart, here are 6 Rules You Must Follow For Boondocking at Walmart!

An RV parked at Walmart after debating on if they can or can't sleep at rest stops

Stay Safe While Exploring

You can never sacrifice your safety no matter where you choose to stay. You can put yourself in a serious and dangerous situation by ignoring your gut and not having common sense. It’s better to play it safe than sorry, especially regarding safety.

Know your limits and plan travel days. Save time to arrive at your destination before getting too tired. Drowsy driving can be very dangerous for you and others on the road.

Have you had to sleep at rest stops while traveling?

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