Settle It: Is it illegal to drive barefoot?

Birchall Blackburn Law give legal advice on whether it's illegal to drive barefoot

It’s summer, it’s hot. You’re in your garden preparing for a BBQ when you realise you’ve forgotten an important fixture in the menu. You head to your car, sit behind the wheel – but there’s one thing that stops you from heading off. You’re barefoot. Can you even legally drive?

Whatever the scenario and whatever the weather, this is a question that many drivers find hard to answer. Am I breaking the law if I drive without shoes on?

 

The statistics

Despite the obvious questions and confusion that surround the legality of what footwear to wear whilst driving, there are many drivers that are certainly willing to take a risk.

According to research by Uswitch.com, 40% of women take to the roads in high heels, 39% wear flip-flops and 24% even drive barefoot.

Over a quarter of male drivers (27%) admitted to driving in flip-flops too, while 22% will even wear nothing on their feet whilst taking the wheel.

13% of drivers have even stalled their car because their shoes have made it difficult to drive – do any of these situations sound familiar?

 

So, is it illegal to drive barefoot?

In a nutshell, no. According to the RAC: there is no law right now against driving barefoot or in flip flops.  

Although it is not illegal to drive in the UK without shoes on or if you are wearing flip flops – there is a catch.

 

What’s the catch?

Rule 97 of the UK Highway Code states that before setting off behind the wheel, you should ensure that “clothing and footwear do not prevent you using the controls in the correct manner” (Gov.uk, The Highway Code, 2017).

In this case, the law dictates that you must impose a reasonable degree of common sense before you get into the driving seat. It’s no surprise that driving without appropriate footwear can increase braking time and make accidents more likely. Ask yourself whether your footwear – or lack of it – will put your ability to control your car safely, at risk.

If your feet are wet, for example, you could well be putting yourself, your passengers and other road users in danger by being unable to securely operate your foot pedals. This, is illegal.

 

Is it just driving with bare feet or flip flops that I should avoid?

No. This isn’t just a rule for driving in bare feet or flip flops – it concerns any footwear that could compromise your driving ability. Just as footwear is an important function in running, walking and any sport – it’s an imperative part of driving safely. You wouldn’t run a marathon in high heels or swim in snow boots, would you?

To make it simple, the guidelines below outline the basic elements of footwear that you should consider wearing before you hop in the driver’s seat.

According to the RAC, your shoes should:

  • Have a sole no thicker than 10mm…
  • … but the sole should not be too thin or soft.
  • Provide enough grip to stop your foot slipping off the pedals.
  • Not be too heavy.
  • Not limit ankle movement.
  • Be narrow enough – so that you don’t accidentally depress two pedals at once.

The rules above categorise other types of footwear – such as high-heels – generally unsuitable for driving a vehicle.

Although concerns are largely placed on wearing light, flimsy and impractical footwear whilst driving, sturdy, robust shoes – like walking or snow boots – can pose just as much a threat to operating a vehicle safely.

Granted, it’s important to have a good grip and base to apply pressure to your pedals, but some heavy footwear can restrict foot movement. Don’t let this be the case for you and your journey.

 

Are there any other problems with driving without appropriate footwear?

Yes. If you have an accident while wearing seemingly inappropriate footwear, such as flip-flops or high heels, your insurer could say that your choice of footwear contributed to dangerous driving and the accident. In some extreme cases, your insurance can be invalidated, with insurers avoiding paying out altogether.

According to the Uswitch.com poll, eight in ten drivers (82%) actually believe that their choice of footwear might be affecting their safety behind the wheel. Don’t be part of that 82%.

 


So to conclude, please remember: it is not illegal to drive barefoot per se, but that doesn’t mean that you should take the risk. You have a responsibility as a driver to uphold standards on the road and within your vehicle. Don’t make footwear mistakes and be the cause of a catastrophic road accident that could have been avoided.

Take it from the Driving Standards Agency (the UK’s Department for Transport) – “We would not recommend driving barefoot”. Essentially, driving with bare feet could be an unwritten rule that you could regret not following one of these days.

That settles that, then.