Driving Barefoot: The Eighth Deadly Sin?

Tim Cotton

Tim Cotton | Sep 02, 2016

If you are the child of a parent who made it a point to tell you that driving while barefooted is against the law, prepare for redemption.

If you are a parent that has been telling your offspring that it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle in a shoeless state, barefooted, sans-shoes or while wearing flip flops or another type of non-structured footwear, keep this posting away from the children.

Can a person legally drive a vehicle while barefooted? The answer is yes.

The wind rushing between your toes? That's what freedom feels like. (Photo by Amanda P.)

As a police officer I cannot count the number of times that this question has been posed to me over the years. Typically by a teenager and usually in front of his or her parents. That puts a lot of pressure on a cop. I am a parent as well, but I never told my son this lie. I am not a helicopter parent. Living in Maine, our window of opportunity for shoeless driving is short. I never even thought about talking to him about it. Flip flops in our house are reserved by the door for taking the dog outside. When you have dogs, walkabouts without shoes are not a great idea.

When asked this question, I know that I have just been drafted as a pawn in the teen’s game of calling out the parents for a suspected lie. I work quickly to change the subject or avoid directly answering the question.

I might say something like, “I can tell you this: driving without wearing shoes is not a great idea.” Maybe if I were going for supportive parent mode, I would blurt this out, “I fully believe if your parents don’t think that is a safe practice, you should avoid it at all costs.” This would not be a lie as I think that parental advice is a good thing and sometimes, we do know better.

Perfectly legal driving footwear.  (By Ceddie2000, CC BY-SA 3.0)

This perception of it being illegal to drive without shoes started somewhere back in time. Probably prior to our ability to double check facts through search engines. Some parent started this rumor and it stuck. It carried through the 1960s and into the 1990s. The kids started to get cynical and finally began to do research on the subject. The jig is up, people. It is time to explain to the kids why you lied. When Google sits second chair to the teen debate champ, you might have your work cut out for you.

I did a post on our department’s Facebook page that clarified and verified that driving with “nekkid feet” was not against the law in any state in the United States. It was well received and even though I believed that most adults among us would have Googled the laws nationwide by now, many still do not know that the practice was, and is, legal. How does this happen in the age of instant information?

The comments that we received were much more humorous than the lighthearted post I created. I had people sharing it over and over and some jubilant drivers claimed that they were throwing their shoes out the window at that very moment. I don’t support this behavior for many reasons but now is not the time for a post about littering. Plus, shoes are expensive.

Can we get this on a bumper sticker?
Can we get this on a bumper sticker?

Several motor vehicle operators wrote to me about the shame that they felt when they had defied both their parents and the non-existent world-wide edict that had shoeless pedal manipulation at best against the law and possibly a mortal sin against humanity. Imagine when the veil was lifted and they came to the realization that this was just driving. Without shoes. In other words, just driving.

I did get a scathing review from one individual. The man indicated that he could not believe that I did not understand the laws about due regard for safe operation of a motor vehicle and that I could and should write a summons to a driver who chose to operate in the unshod mode. He also made it clear that I should be ashamed. Vehement and displeased, he gave us a one star rating.

I have been doing police work for a very long time and never had I been dressed down so angrily over failing to summons someone for not breaking a law. It was always frowned upon by the higher-ups.

The question that I pose to you is this: How do we make other, actual laws become this ingrained in folks’ heads?

"We need to find out who the person was that started the rumor about driving barefoot and have them work this issue into their indoctrination speech." (Txdot.gov Photo)

Texting and driving is spoken about repeatedly. I see, hear, and read the public service announcements daily. We send out details of police officers with the intent to stop and warn or summons people for the behavior and then I drive home and watch at least a third of the drivers on the road text like it is a necessary part of the operation of their motor vehicles.

We need to find out who the person was that started the rumor about driving barefoot and have them work this issue into their indoctrination speech. Personally, I am not sure that expensive fines stop an activity that happens at dinner, bath time, at the movies and pretty much whenever I am actually talking to someone. Most of the people that I encounter don’t think anything about stopping our colloquy to pull their phone up in front of us and respond to something that appears on the screen.

The sad thing is that it is not even against the law to operate a motorcycle without shoes. At least in 49 states. Don't kick the messenger. It is true.  Alabama does have a law that prohibits such activity and while not saying anything derogatory against those who “Roll Tide,” I was somewhat surprised that Alabama was the state that banished that practice.

I made the assumption that some location on the West Coast would be more inclined to disallow operating a motorcycle without all the gear, all the time.  Let me be clear: I do not believe that operating a motorcycle without footwear is safe. I would not do it and you probably shouldn’t either. 

Things that are just legal: driving with nekkid feet, those shoes from three pictures up.

So, there are no laws that disallow free-footed-pedal-fondling-tom-foolery and there really shouldn’t be. Let me know if you come up with an idea of how to create some fear and paranoia about distracted driving and texting while behind the wheel. You know, something that is actually against the law.

If you come up with something, text me. You don’t even need to be wearing flip flops.

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