Is it legal to drive barefoot in the UK?
This is one of those questions that regularly gets people arguing furiously with each other at parties, in pubs or over Sunday lunch!
While that might be great fun, what exactly is the reality?
Well, it comes as a surprise to many to learn that it is NOT illegal to drive barefoot in the UK. According to the RAC, the law on this subject is totally silent.
Under both English and Scots Law, if the law is silent on something then by definition it is NOT illegal. So that looks like good news for those who like the idea or practice of driving barefoot.
What the law does demand, however, that you’re driving safely in terms of your overall ability to competently control the vehicle. This is complicated because it means that in the case of footwear, should a dispute arise, the exact circumstances would need to be tested under law in a specific situation.
While a court couldn’t say that driving barefoot was illegal in say an accident situation, it presumably would have the right to conclude that it might have been a contributory factor and that might change your liability exposure.
What is right
At the risk of getting sucked into jurisprudence and philosophy, it’s worth making the point though that because something is legal doesn’t make it right. It also certainly doesn’t mean that it’s sensible either.
Most responsible driving experts would advise against driving barefoot, driving with wet feet or driving in inappropriate footwear.
Taking the latter first, that might be considered to include things such as:
- platform shoes;
- some types of very heavy and restrictive boots with thick soles.
Well, to really control a car through foot pedals, it’s highly advisable for the driver to be able to ‘feel’ the pedal to be able to gauge the amount of force required. It also might be necessary, in say an emergency breaking situation, to move your foot from the accelerator to the brake pedal and VERY rapidly.
In such a case, you really don’t want loose-fitting footwear that might get snagged up between pedals thereby potentially delaying your braking. If you’ve ever driven in flip-flops and experienced the toe piece slipping under the pedal while your toes go over it, then you’ll know what that means.
The other case is — “what exactly is wrong with driving barefoot”?
This becomes subjective but many people will recognise that the soles of their feet are relatively sensitive.
That’s come about through a lifetime of modern shoe usage.
The modern shoe provides a high degree of cushioning whilst also delivering a tough and robust surface that makes contacts with roads, stairs and pavements etc.
Now we’ve all seen those documentaries about Fakirs in India walking barefoot on hot coals and tribal people walking on rocks for days without any shoes. However, most people in the UK do not have a background of toughening the soles of their feel over a lifetime.
That means if you push your foot down on a small hard object such as a car pedal, particularly in a hard-braking situation, the chances are you’re going to say “ouch”.
The bottom line looks convincing. If it’s an emergency and you need to brake hard, the amount of force you apply should be driven by your judgement and instinct rather than how much it’s hurting the ball of your foot to do so.
It might be worth asking yourself the question, if a car was bearing down on you and you needed the driver to brake hard to save you, would you be happier thinking that they had shoes on or were barefoot?