IS IT ILLEGAL TO DRIVE BAREFOOT?

In short, no. Despite conflicting information, it is not technically illegal to get behind the wheel of a vehicle without any shoes on. You can even legally wear flip flops or high heels.

There is a but. You have to be able to operate the controls safely. So, if you're involved in a road traffic incident as a result of you not being able to operate the brakes effectively when driving barefoot or wearing impractical footwear, this is illegal.

The ability to bring a car to a stop is essential for road safety and is something that can be put in jeopardy by drivers without shoes on their feet. There are various challenges that any driver is likely to encounter if they choose to drive barefoot.

Applying Heavy Pressure To The Clutch

The clutch on a manual car is a relatively small and thin pedal that requires a driver to exert a lot on pressure on the ball of their foot. The sole of a shoe helps to distribute this pressure evenly.

A barefoot driver might not be able to achieve the required pressure compared to a driver wearing practical shoes.

Painful Over Long Distances

Clutch pedals are designed to increase friction between the driver's shoe and the pedal. The rough surface ensures that the left foot doesn't slip off when it applies pressure to change gear.

Driving long distances - even short distances if you have to use the clutch a lot - can be painful without shoes on. Your feet could develop painful blisters making it even more difficult to control the car safely.

Slippery Feet

Repeated pressing of the pedals without wearing shoes can cause feet to sweat. When this happens, a barefoot is at greater risk of slipping off the pedals which is very dangerous. The driver might put themselves in a position where they are unable to stop the car in an emergency, because their foot has slipped off the pedal or is not able to exert sufficient pressure.

Similarly, driving in socks or stockings reduces the traction between feet and the pedals. This poses an equal risk of being unable to exert the right amount of pressure on the pedals compared to those driving with shoes on. 

Risk Of Broken Glass And Debris

In the unfortunate event of an accident, a barefoot driver is at great risk of sustaining a cut or an injury to their feet caused by broken glass or debris on the road. It's also highly impractical to have to wait at the side of the road for emergency services and recovery services without any shoes on, especially at night and in colder weather.

If it's only a minor accident, the car might be able to be pushed to the side of the road. You might have to push the car yourself, which doing barefoot, is asking for trouble, especially if there is debris on the road from the collision.

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WHAT SHOES SHOULD I WEAR TO DRIVE?

According to the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) "suitable shoes are particularly important behind the wheel. [They] would not recommend driving barefoot because you don't have the same braking force with bare feet as you do with shoes on".

Ideally, your shoe should:

  • Have a sole no thicker than 10mm, but not be too thin or soft
  • Provide enough grip to prevent your foot slipping off the pedals
  • Not be too heavy
  • Not limit ankle movement
  • Be narrow enough to avoid accidently pressing two pedals at once

Obviously, this rules out a number of shoe types including flip flops, high heels, walking boots and snow boots.

According to recent research, 40% of women have admitted to driving in high heels, a further 39% have worn flip flops and 24% go barefoot.

In the same survey, 27% of male drivers confessed to getting behind the wheel in flip flops, while 22% have driven with nothing on their feet.

In the interest of everyone's safety you should always put appropriate shoes on your feet, not the footwear that looks the best or is the most convenient, when you're going to drive.