Driving barefoot is safer than driving while wearing footwear

One of the more pervasive of the many myths related to bare feet is that it is illegal to drive barefoot. One the other hand, this is one of the easiest to debunk. Another myth is that driving barefoot is somehow unsafe. Nothing could be further from the truth.                                      

The legality of barefoot driving can be easily verified

Just put the following query into Google or some other search engine:
“Is it legal to drive barefoot?”

You’ll find hundreds of articles or other references pointing out in this or that state that driving barefoot there is perfectly legal.

If you want to do some more direct research at the source, all states have links to their vehicle codes online. They can easily be found by searching for the particular state and its vehicle code.

For example, all the laws related to driving a motor vehicle in North Carolina can be found here in the N.C. Vehicle Code. There is no mention anywhere in the code of “shoes” (except brake shoes), “feet” (except as a distance measurement), or “barefoot.”

Many people apparently still believe that it’s against the law to drive barefoot

Yet, in almost any conversation related to going barefoot, whether online or in person, you’re inevitably going to hear someone say, “It’s illegal in [my state] to drive barefoot.”

Barefoot driving is perfectly legal in the U.S. and in other parts of the world

The fact is, it isn’t illegal in any state in the U.S. to drive a motor vehicle barefoot, and – to my knowledge – never has been.

There is a classic article, published back in 1994, which details inquiries that Jason R. Heimbaugh, of the University of Illinois, sent to all 50 states asking if there were any laws against barefoot driving. All 50 states confirmed that barefoot driving is indeed legal, and those responses are included in the article. Since then, nothing has changed in regard to such laws.

As to motorcycles, you can drive or ride on them barefoot as well, except in only one state. Alabama legally requires drivers and riders on motorcycles to wear footwear.

There’s no law against driving barefoot in Canada or Mexico either. As to other countries of the world, I’m not aware of any country that has a law requiring shoes for driving, though of course there could be.

While acknowledging barefoot driving’s legality, many writers still recommend against it

Many of the articles you may read that confirm that barefoot driving is perfectly legal also recommend against it for various reasons. It’s pretty obvious that, based on the reasons often given for not driving barefoot, the authors of these articles have never driven barefoot themselves.

This is typical of much of what you read on the internet about any topic. That is, writers trying to come across as experts on subjects they’ve never themselves had any personal experience or first-hand knowledge about. Yet they must feel their opinions – based on nothing more than myth, misinformation, or personal bias – are important enough to “enlighten” the public.

Reasons often stated against barefoot driving are usually based on biased personal opinion, not real world experience or facts

Here are some typical reasons given against barefoot driving – gleaned from several articles I reviewed – with my responses below each one:

Clutch problems:

“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.”

Requires driver to exert “a lot” of pressure?  A barefoot driver “might not be able to achieve the required pressure”? Sounds like they’re talking about a piece of heavy farm or construction equipment, rather than a motor vehicle.

Clutches on modern vehicles aren’t hard to press down at all. Anyone’s bare foot, even someone used to wearing shoes, can easily press down the clutch in any car, truck, or SUV manufactured in this day and age.

“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.”

I don’t see how a  clutch having a relatively “rough” surface would be any issue for a bare foot. It’s just rubber tread, the same as is on the brake pedal.

Typical floorboard and pedals of a manual transmission vehicle. The rough treads of the pedal pads help prevent any foot slippage. Bare feet will grip and hold onto to pedals better than any footwear could.
Typical floorboard and pedals of a manual transmission vehicle. The rough treads of the pedal pads help prevent any foot slippage.

“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.”

These statements make no sense at all. Nobody’s going to develop “blisters” on their feet from just normal driving, long or short distances, from using a bare foot on a clutch. I’ve personally driven my manual transmission pickup truck for almost 70,000 miles, including six trips back and forth across the country, and always barefoot. No pain, no blisters, no problem.

Braking problems:

“We would not recommend driving barefoot because you don’t have the same braking force with bare feet as you do with shoes on.”

A bare foot can quickly feel, grab onto, and press a brake pedal - much safer and more efficiently than a shod foot.
A bare foot can quickly feel, grab onto, and press a brake pedal – much safer and more efficiently than a shod foot.

This seems to be the same illogical argument as the clutch related one. If someone is able to press down a brake pedal with shoes on, how would that change without shoes on? It’s the same leg, same muscles used, and same foot.

Not only would the “braking force” be exactly the same, the braking would be much safer with bare feet. That’s because of the ability of a bare foot to flex somewhat around the brake pedal and/or to use the toes to partially grip the pedal as it’s pressed – thus greatly reducing any chance of the foot slipping off.

Applying brakes in the vast majority of automobiles on the road today requires no effort at all. Very easily done with a bare foot.
Applying brakes in my SUV. This is the way I usually do it – with just my toes. It requires no effort at all for a bare foot.

I’ve noticed on my car, I usually apply the brakes with only my big toe, sometimes assisted by the next toe, while my heel rests on the floor, after just sort of rotating my foot off the gas pedal. That’s for most routine slowing or stopping.

For a  sudden or more unexpected braking need, I instantly move my foot from the gas to the brake pedal, which I can easily and immediately feel its position due to having a bare foot. The front part of the ball of my foot makes instant contact, as my toes curl somewhat around the top of the pedal for better grip. No one could possibly make better contact on brakes wearing shoes.

Pebble or gravel problems:

“And stepping on gravel or a pebble stuck in the pedals could make a driver pull his feet back when hitting the brakes.”

I’m not sure how a pebble could ever get “stuck in the pedals.” I’m not sure how a pebble could ever even get onto the pad of a pedal to even become stuck there. The pads of the pedals of every vehicle I’ve ever seen are almost vertical, not horizontal, therefore even if someone were to place a pebble on a pedal, it would  just roll right off into the floor.

I suppose it is theoretically possible that a small rock or piece of gravel could get stuck to the bottom of someone’s bare foot as they step into the car. I’ve tracked a few small rocks or gravel into the floorboard of my car. But even in the unlikely event that a little rock remained stuck onto the bottom of a foot, and that foot then touched the brake pedal, the rock would then just fall off – or if not, the relatively soft tissue of a foot sole would simply absorb any pressure from it, causing no pain or problem at all.

Slippery Feet problems:

“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.”

Unless you are using a car like an exercise machine, similar to a  stair step machine – continuously pumping the pedals up and down – there isn’t going to be any excessive foot sweating. And even if that did happen  – say, maybe you’re driving in 90+° (F.) weather with no air conditioning – there is no logical reason to assume that sweaty feet would be any more likely to slip off pedals than dry feet.

In fact, sweaty feet are more likely to stick tightly to pedals than dry feet would.

“If your feet are wet, they could slide off the pedals.”

This is a hypothesis that simply doesn’t hold water. Feet that are wet in fact in most cases are more likely to stick tighter to rubber pedal pads that completely dry feet.

I had read that claim before, but in a lifetime of barefoot driving could not remember ever having an issue with wet bare feet on car or truck pedals. So I decided to find out for sure with an experiment.

I got a bucket full of water and put it next to my open truck door. I dipped each foot into the water, which got my feet and ankles dripping wet. Then I got into my truck and placed my feet on the pedals. I tried to slide them around on each pedal, as well as switched from pedal to pedal – clutch, brake, and gas pedal.

I experienced no slippage at all – each wet foot stuck just as strongly to each pedal as they do when they are dry. And I had my wife take some pictures of this process.

Experiment to see if wet bare feet on vehicle pedals are slippery - as is often claimed - or if wet bare feet on pedals have any less traction than dry bare feet. Finding: Wet bare feet are not slippery on pedals. The wet bare feet here stuck firmly to the pedals with no slippage at all.
Experiment to see if wet bare feet on vehicle pedals are slippery – as is often claimed – or if wet bare feet on pedals have any less traction than dry bare feet. Finding: Wet bare feet are not slippery on pedals. The wet bare feet here stuck firmly to the pedals with no slippage at all.

Being cited for careless driving problems:

“Moreover, even though it’s not illegal, if you’re pulled over or get into a fender bender while driving barefoot, you might be more likely to be cited, even if your unburdened feet had nothing to do with your questionable driving.”

This is obviously a notion somebody came up with without any real experience or facts to back it up. You “might be more likely” – not even “more likely,” but “might be” more likely. Sounds like the writer was hedging as much as possible on his or her opinion of the probability of such a thing happening.

In an article a few years ago by the Michigan State Police, they characterized being cited for barefoot driving as an urban legend, and put the “careless driving” aspect of it into a reasonable perspective:

Barefoot Driving: There is nothing in the Michigan Vehicle Code that prohibits barefoot driving. Careless or reckless driving would really be a stretch, as an argument could be made that a barefoot person has more control over the pedals.

The closest to a shoeless = careless driving notion might be where someone has removed his or her shoes while driving, and those shoes got stuck under a pedal. So, the person was barefoot, but that wouldn’t have caused the accident or dangerous driving situation – the discarded shoes would have.

Risk of Broken Glass and Debris problems:

“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.”

Not all that likely. Any broken glass is likely to be from the laminated or tempered glass in car windows or windshield. If anything, there’d be tiny glass pebbles around, not deadly shards. Most broken glass, unless it’s in the form or shards sticking straight up, is not very likely to cut bare feet. Debris on the road can usually be easily stepped over.

From my personal experience, in the 18 years that I’ve been a full time barefooter, I’ve stepped on broken glass a few times, but have never been cut by it. I see no reason to expect my experience to change dramatically in the event of an automobile accident. Therefore I see no logic in subjecting my feet to the discomfort and the lack of safe tactile control of shoes when driving simply because I might be in a car accident.

“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.”

I’m not sure how waiting barefoot for recovery services at night would be any particular problem. As to colder weather, that too is not necessarily a problem for bare feet unless it’s sub-freezing and/or there’s deep snow on the ground.

It is always prudent for anyone driving barefoot in the cold of winter to always have some warm boots stashed away somewhere in their vehicle just in case of such emergencies. I covered that in my article, “You can go barefoot in cold 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.”

Pushing your car while barefoot should be no more of a problem than pushing your car with footwear on. In fact, it might be easier, as you may be able to get a better grip on the surface with bare feet than with some types of footwear. You just need to watch out for any sharp broken glass sticking up or debris, to avoid it if possible.

Driving barefoot is always much safer than driving with footwear on, for several reasons

A barefoot person has much greater control over vehicles pedals, because he or she can feel them better. Shoes or other footwear not only cut off that essential tactile sensation, they can slip off pedals or get hung up between pedals, potentially causing an accident. The level of control and feedback of bare feet on car pedals is much, much more perceptive than could ever be with any type of shoes.

And I can’t think of anything more dangerous than trying to manipulate car pedals with something like flip-flops on.

People who have always driven with shoes on may honestly feel they have good control of the vehicle pedals, but it could be so much better and safer without the shoes. Driving with shoes on is analogous to operating a TV remote control while wearing mittens. Sure, it can be done – but it’s certainly much easier and more efficient barehanded.

If it were somehow possible to test, using scientific methods, the ability to control the foot pedals of a motor vehicle using one group of barefoot people against another group of shoe-wearing people, I know there would be a significant difference observed. Since the barefoot group would clearly be able to feel the pedals with much greater tactile acuity, they would  have better control, and thereby be able to operate a vehicle much safer than the shoe-wearing group.

If there ever were any laws related to footwear and driving (which there aren’t), it would make a lot more sense to make driving with footwear illegal. Driving with bare feet is the safest way to drive, and I would never compromise my safety or risk my life or the lives of anyone riding with me by driving any other way.

Better control and safety are good reasons to always drive barefoot, but not the only reasons

I don’t drive barefoot because it’s safer. I drive barefoot because it’s more comfortable. It being safer is just a nice benefit.

Driving my truck while barefoot - the most comfortable, efficient, and safest way.
Driving my truck while barefoot – the most comfortable, efficient, and safest way.

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Julian Toussaint

I have driven barefoot for many years, even before I lived predominantly barefoot, for both comfort and safety reasons. To my knowledge no one has ever refused to be a passenger in a car because they felt unsafe. They haven’t even commented on me driving barefoot. I have seen some of the claims you posted and have a similar response. The arguments against barefoot driving are spurious at best. It would as you suggest be great to do a study. But as you state, I think it would confirm that not only is barefoot driving not unsafe, it is a… Read more »

Victor Sudakov

For me, it’s also easier (and therefore probably safer) to drive long distances barefoot because feet are breathing and blood flow is not constricted. My car has no cruise control so the right foot can feel tired if constricted by a shoe.

Victor Sudakov

None. The only traffic rule concerning clothes is “2.1.2 When driving a motorcycle, wear a buttoned motorcycle helmet and do not carry passengers without a buttoned motorcycle helmet” (the same paragraph which regulates seat belts). And this rule is enforced.

Neil C

Honestly, I don’t even think about being barefoot while I drive. I guess it’s because I just do it so often and have never been told not to. When I drive I feel much more in control with my bare feet because of the tactile feedback and the fact I can control the pedals with my feet and toes. I have been told in the past that driving barefoot was illegal but I simply said it wasn’t and paid it no attention. Driving, walking, running and a host of other things we do everyday are done best with bare feet!… Read more »

Kent

Brilliant article Kriss!

Neil C

Hey Kriss, I’m not on Facebook or any other social media. Is there an email that I can send pics to? I notice articles have good pics of people barefoot and wouldn’t mind contributing. Neil