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.
All 50 states permit the operation of motor vehicles without shoes. Some may advise against it, but it’s never actively policed. There would be no efficient way to do so. So, you’ll never have to feel guilty or uneasy if you are on a road trip and feel your feet blistering up in your shoes. There are a couple of reasons for this and misconceptions that result in people perceiving barefoot driving as illegal.
What about my specific city and state? Is it illegal to drive barefoot there?
As mentioned before, no state legislation prohibits the barefoot operation of a car or pick-up truck. 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 with no shoes can’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 legal. 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.
In what ways can driving barefoot be unsafe?
While it’s legal, 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’s a couple of issues you may face when driving without shoes 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 pedal. Before driving 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. If you were to cause an accident while driving barefoot, your lack of shoes could be used as a legal case for distracted driving because your normal driving ability has been otherwise impaired.
- Painful in some circumstances. During a long road trip, barefoot driving for an extended period of time can become painful. If you really must drive with no shoes, 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 shoes. 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, high heels, and long-laced shoes can be more hazardous than driving barefoot. Several states acknowledge this. 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 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 barefoot driving, 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 distracted driving, especially in Ohio.
Alabama has a specific law regarding the shoeless operation of a vehicle. As with the other states, there’s no regulation against barefoot driving, 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 shoes 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 pedals.
- 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.
The best kind of shoes for driving is no different from your average walking or gym pairs. 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. This is similar to how police will attribute your lack of shoes to the collision.
Some cases have been reported where driving barefoot has affected a policyholder’s 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. Sometimes the best thing to do is to slip on some Uggs when you’re in a rush.