You’re visiting a beach town along the east or west coast for part of the summer. While at the beach, you realize you need some extra chairs. The friend or family member who drove you to the beach throws you the car keys so you can head back to the house or hotel you’re staying at to get the extra chairs. Your place is only a mile away, so it’s not a long drive, and you decide to forgo the flip-flops you had worn on the way over.
It’s a good thing that driving doesn’t work the same way as a business because no shoes or shirt doesn’t necessarily mean no service. So no, it’s not illegal to drive barefoot. It’s just an urban myth that driving a motor vehicle barefoot is not legal.
All 50 states permit the operation of motor vehicles barefoot. Many police departments may advise against it or wearing what is considered improper footwear, but it’s never actively policed or illegal. This means that if you are stopped, no police officer will be able to issue you a citation for driving barefoot. There would be no efficient way to do so, on the contrary, driving without proper footwear could pose a serious safety risk.
Motorcycle drivers are the one exception. Alabama mandates that motorcycle riders put on shoes and have the rest of the protection they need to prevent injuries in the event of an accident.
So, at least from a legal point of view, you’ll never have to feel guilty or uneasy if you are on a road trip, feel your feet blistering up in your shoes, and you decide to take your pair of shoes off. There are a couple of reasons for this and misconceptions that result in people perceiving barefoot driving as illegal.
Is it Illegal to drive barefoot in my state?
As mentioned before, no state legislation prohibits you to drive barefoot in a car or pick-up truck. It’s just of many urban legends. To a degree, we have a fellow named Jason Heimburgh to thank. In the 90s, Heimburgh personally wrote to the department of motor vehicles in each state, educating them on how driving without footwear shouldn’t be a safety hazard to driving.
More or less, Heimburgh started a sort of activist movement for shoe-free driving. As long as it doesn’t prevent you from optimally operating the car’s pedals (especially the brakes), it’s not illegal to drive barefoot. There has been some debate on whether driving barefoot does this.
On a local municipal level, there may be restrictions or prohibitions against shoe-free driving. That would be entirely up to the officials at town hall. On the other side of the coin, some municipalities say that certain types of footwear like flip-flops are less safe to drive in than barefoot. In the average case, you would be able to drive barefoot but take caution when wearing certain types of shoes considered inappropriate footwear.
In what ways can barefoot driving be unsafe?
While it not driving barefoot illegal, it may not always be the best course of action. Shoes are undoubtedly the preferred method of operating the pedals of a car safely, precisely, and smoothly.
Here are a couple of issues you may face when driving without safe footwear on:
- Lower braking force. Shoes often provide a cushion for exerting force with your feet. Without them, your pressure on the brake pedal may be lessened.
- Slipping off the gas pedal. Before driving your motor vehicle back home from the beach, make sure your feet are dried. On their own, they’re slippery without the proper traction shoe soles offer.
- Distracted driving. Although a law enforcement officer cannot give you a ticket for driving barefoot, if you were to cause an accident while driving barefoot, your lack of shoes could be used as a legal case for distracted or careless driving because your normal driving ability has been otherwise impaired.
- Painful in some circumstances. During a long road trip, driving barefoot for an extended period of time can become painful and the risk of injury increases. If you really must drive with no footwear, it’s best for short periods of time.
- Local laws prohibition. If you live in a municipality that employs against barefoot driving, then that’s when it becomes illegal.
Now, what are some arguments in favor of driving a car barefoot?
When Heimburgh wrote the DMVs in the 90s, he included arguments for driving with no shoes. Some of which demonstrated that going shoe-free behind the wheel is safer than some particular footwear. Above all, Heimburgh wrote that driving barefoot poses no immediate hazard to yourself and other drivers on the road.
- Safer than certain footwear. Driving in flip-flops, open-toed shoes, high heels, dress shoes with leather soles, and long-laced shoes can be more hazardous than driving barefoot as they can impede the driver’s ability to sense the pedal positions or the pedals' functionality. Several states acknowledge that this can cause an accident. It’s hazardous but not hazardous enough to warrant it being illegal.
- Control due to sole grip. Barefoot soles have their own amount of grip that is slightly less than that of a shoe. Because of this, some barefoot drivers feel they have just as much vehicle control with the addition of feel to their car when driving barefoot. However, if you didn’t dry off after a visit to the beach, then your feet will probably slip around the pedal.
- Aired out feet. Over long road trips, you may want to air out your feet sometimes to prevent swelling or blistering. A lot of the pain associated with lengthy driving can be alleviated by driving barefoot now and then for short periods of time.
What is my state’s position on people who drive with no shoes?
While every state can recommend for and against anything, there’s no law against driving with no shoes on. That’s consistent in all 50 states. Some local townships may privately enforce a traffic law against it, but this is rare.
Some states like California are completely indifferent to driving barefoot, while others like Michigan don’t even recognize it as a risk. For the most part, states will make it clear that they don’t prohibit driving shoe-free but recommend against it as it’s unsafe for reasons we’ve already discussed.
Several other states like Minnesota, Kansas, and Missouri argue that driving barefoot is much safer than risky footwear like flops or heels that could interfere with the car’s operation. In the end, all states recommend that all drivers wear shoes. This is mainly because a shoeless driver in an accident can be a legal case for inattentive driving, especially in Ohio.
Illegal to drive barefoot on a motorcycle?
Alabama has a specific law regarding the shoeless operation of a vehicle. As with the other states, there’s no regulation against driving barefoot, but it is illegal to do so on a motorcycle. In cars, you at least have carpeting and a metal chassis around the engine. With a motorcycle, the engine is directly next to your leg.
It’s for this reason that a lot of riders don’t even wear shorts when riding. You could only imagine the risk of engine burns with bare feet. It would make sense that this would be a written law because of the immediate health and safety danger it poses.
If I want to go for a drive, what are the shoes I should avoid?
While on the topic of driver health and safety, it would be pertinent to address some of the unsafe footwear to drive in:
- Flip flops. A flip flop isn’t only flappy; it’s a loosely secured shoe. It can literally flip-flop over the pedals and cause jamming.
- High heels. Driving in heels can be as tricky as learning to walk in them with their elevation causing interference for those foot movements that count when shifting from the gas to the brakes.
- Long laces. Shoes with long laces need almost no thought about the risk they pose in general. They could get tangled in the pedals or hinder movements.
- Cleats. Sports cleats don’t interact well with car pedals at all. The spikes eliminate all traction that the driver would have. Cleats are meant to dig into grass, not the brakes.
The best kind of shoes for safe driving is no different from your average walking or gym pair. Ideally, they would have a 10mm sole at the most, lightweight, and a flexible fit for your ankle.
How do insurance companies view driving barefoot?
If you were to become involved in an accident while driving barefoot or if it was a regular habit that the insurance company learned about, then your insurer will view it as dangerous or reckless driving, affecting your insurance costs. This is similar to how the police will think you being barefoot caused the accident.
Some cases have been reported where driving barefoot has affected a policyholder’s insurance coverage rates and negated their claim. In the most difficult situations, some drivers have had their insurance invalidated.
In the end, you won’t have to worry about the legality of driving barefoot for a short distance while visiting the beach or airing your feet out on a road trip. But, there are some inherent risks and dangers involved like causing an accident. Sometimes the best thing to do is to slip on some Uggs when you’re in a rush.
Car insurance is required by law, but that doesn’t mean you have to break the bank for good coverage. Insurance Navy helps drivers get affordable insurance with high-quality coverage.
Get your free car insurance quote online with Insurance Navy today. Assistance is also just one phone call away at 888-949-6289. Quotes are available in just a few steps. Get covered today and drive worry-free tomorrow.