Maybe you live in sunny Florida, where the weather is gloriously warm and sunshine-ey throughout the year, or maybe you’re always running late and frequently jump into the car without your shoes on. Maybe you’re forgetful, or maybe, just maybe, you just don’t like footwear. Whatever your reason may be, you have a penchant for going barefoot when you drive and prefer to keep it that way.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m not judging! I dare say people have done weirder things in their cars while driving, from shaving on the go to talking/texting while driving to eating everything from steaks to burgers to salads to even reading!
However, whatever your sartorial choices maybe, what’s the legality surrounding barefoot driving in the US? Are you erring on the side of caution (and the law!) by driving barefoot, or is it as legal as, say, eating an ice cream? (It’s only keeping it in your pocket on a Sunday that could get you arrested).
After ample research, here’s all that you need to know about driving barefoot and its legality in the United States!
To Barefoot or Not to Barefoot?
Long story short, driving barefoot is completely legal in all 50 states of the United States, as is driving in flip-flops and sandals. There isn’t any law barring folks from driving without shoes on.
However, does this mean that driving barefoot is recommended? Does ‘legal’ equal ‘recommended’?
Turns out that it isn’t, at least not by the majority. Many authorities urge folks to drive with shoes on. Why? Let’s take a look, shall we?
Why Driving Barefoot Can be Dangerous
Driving barefoot is discouraged because, believe it or not, it can bring a potential world of danger to the table. This is owing to the following reasons:
If you’re barefoot, your feet are not protected. This means that they are at a risk of injury as it is, but especially so in the case of an accident. Your unprotected feet may get more injured and more severely than if they were protected by shoes or footwear.
Should an accident happen or you need to stop your car and get out for whatever reason, your bare feet can fall victim to serious injuries, from shattered glass and car parts or sharp, uneven objects on the road. You’re at great risk of receiving cuts or injuries caused by broken glass and debris on the road. You may even have to push your car, in some cases; obviously, doing so barefoot is asking for trouble!
If you’ve just met with an accident and are waiting for the emergency services on the side of the road, it’s quite impractical to wait without any shoes on, especially if it’s a chilly night, or worse, winter!
Driving barefoot doesn’t give you as much comfort and reach as driving with shoes can, just the way that it’s more comfortable to run with shoes on than flip-flops. If you’re uncomfortable, you’re bound to stay distracted the whole time that you’re driving, which can be quite dangerous.
If you’re driving in flip-flops, they could get stuck under the pedals or tangled in them, making it hard to regain your footing and stop, start, or control the vehicle as required. Needless to say, this causes quite a major, harmful distraction while driving. Though, you may dismiss distraction as an unimportant consequence of driving barefoot, the fact that 60% of all car accidents happen due to distracted driving may force you to change your mind!
Though driving barefoot is legal, it is severely frowned upon by the authorities. This means that should there be an accident and the police find that you were driving barefoot, you may just be charged with reckless driving, regardless of whose fault the accident actually is.
Driving barefoot may not give you the required pressure to apply on the clutch, especially in older cars. The clutch in manual cars is quite thin and small and requires the driver to exert quite a bit of pressure on the ball of the foot. It’s easier to apply the required pressure on the clutch with your shoes on.
In addition to the previous point, applying pressure with the ball of your feet puts it under a lot of stress. Wearing a shoe could distribute the pressure evenly, with the sole of the show saving your feet from the exertion of a lot of pressure.
Without footwear on, your feet may end up cramping or having spasms from repeatedly using the clutch. Clutch pedals are designed in a way that results in increased friction between the pedal and the shoe.
The rough surface of the clutch ensures that your foot doesn’t slip off when pressure is applied while shifting gears. This makes driving long distances painful without footwear. Needless to say, this reduces the ability of a driver to efficiently drive the vehicle, being painful, uncomfortable and distracting.
If your bare feet are wet or you have extremely sweaty feet, it can be super dangerous to drive your car, as the wet feet can make the pedals slippery and slip off the pedals due to insufficient grip. (Even if you don’t have sweaty feet naturally, repeatedly pressing the pedals without wearing shoes can cause your feet to sweat.) You may encounter a situation where you can’t stop the car in an emergency, due to the wetness causing the foot to slip off or not allowing you to exert enough pressure.
Therefore, it is advisable that you don’t drive barefoot, even if it is completely legal. Additionally, driving in sandals, high heels, clogs and other slippery shoes is extremely risky as these can easily slip off your feet.
If you’ve dressed wrong for the day and are unable to drive in your fancy new stilettos, going barefoot might be the more viable and prudent option. In such cases, remove your sandals, clogs or high heels and put them on the passenger seat or on the floor, away from the pedals so that they don’t fall under the brake and gas pedals, causing difficulty in accelerating, stopping or slowing down.
The same applies to nylon socks or tights—these can reduce the traction between the pedals and your foot, leading to a lot of slipping and loss of traction. They also don’t let you exert sufficient pressure on the pedals.
A Case for Barefoot Driving
While many folks, legal and otherwise, will tell you not to drive barefoot, there’s quite a significant population that believes it’s safer to drive barefoot instead of driving with sandals. They believe doing so gives them better control while driving and a better range to use their toes while driving, as opposed to big, heavy footwear or sandals that could slip off easily.
Apart from these reasons, there are also people who swear by driving barefoot for reasons beyond comfort and control. One user talks about sticking with going barefoot due to an accident involving their grandparent, who was ejected from the vehicle in a crash but nearly lost his life anyway, owing to his sandal getting stuck under the gas pedal and resulting in his losing control of the car.
The Ideal Driving Shoes
Suitable shoes are extremely important while driving. Bare feet don’t allow the same braking force as feet with shoes do, according to the Driving Standards Agency (DSA).
The ideal shoes should:
- Have a sole that isn’t thicker than 10 mm
- Not be too soft or thing
- Provide sufficient grip so that feet don’t slip off the pedals
- Not be too heavy or limit movement of the ankle
- Be narrow enough to prevent any accidental pressing of two pedals at once
In short, this means no high heels, walking or snow boots or flip flops.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, it isn’t illegal to drive barefoot anywhere in the vast plains, deserts and mountains of the United States—you’re legally free to drive wearing any kind of footwear you desire.
However, as mentioned earlier, legal clearance doesn’t mean that going barefoot is the recommended way to go. While you may find it infinite times more comfortable to drive barefoot than with shoes on, it is recommended that you do the latter in the interest of not just yours, but everyone’s safety!
You never know when a mishap could occur and the probability of mishaps occurring is higher with bare feet than with shoes. Freak accidents could put your life at high risk; you may be unable to apply enough pressure on the pedals or be unable to get a grip on the pedals.
Therefore, though it may feel like driving barefoot is justified just because it is legal, do consider the many other risks associated with it. Ultimately, at the end of the day, whether you’re driving barefoot or not, it’s all about staying safe and keeping others safe and if this means wearing shoes (at no cost to you but the disregarding of your wardrobe preference—and how much you paid for the shoes!), so be it!