Driving a car barefoot is unusual and many think that this behavior is unsafe. Yet, although people may assume it is illegal to drive a vehicle barefoot, none of the fifty states prohibits barefoot operation of a motor vehicle.
In the 1990s, a researcher at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, Jason R. Heimbaugh, sent letters to all fifty states inquiring about the legality of barefoot driving. His research revealed that no states explicitly prohibit driving a car barefoot. There was a widespread myth that barefoot driving was illegal in Kentucky, which turned out to be false. Like the laws of the other states, Kentucky law does not bar people from driving a car with bare feet.
In Alabama, it is legal to operate a motor vehicle without footwear, except motorcycles. Many other states—including Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio, and Wyoming–allow barefoot driving but do not recommend it. Barefoot driving is also permitted in the District of Columbia and the American Territories: American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.
Even though barefoot driving is not technically illegal in any state, a person who drives barefoot could be charged with a crime under certain circumstances. If the law enforcement officer perceives the driving behavior as particularly careless, then the driver could face charges of reckless driving.
Reckless driving involves operating a vehicle with a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others or a willful disregard for the consequences of operating the vehicle. In many cases, people face reckless driving charges following an accident that has harmed people or damaged property. For a person to be charged with reckless driving, their conduct must extend beyond mere negligence. Rather than making a mistake, the driver must have willfully disregarded others’ safety.
Reckless driving is a serious offense. More severe than a typical traffic infraction, reckless driving is typically charged as a misdemeanor offense. The punishment for reckless driving offenses varies by state but typically includes a fine and a potential term of imprisonment for up to one year. For example, in Alabama, the penalty for the first conviction of reckless driving is five to 90 days of jail time and a fine between $25 and $500. A conviction of reckless driving could also result in the suspension of the offending driver’s license. In Arizona, the court can order a suspension of the driver’s license for up to 90 days.
Whether a person could be charged with reckless driving depends on the circumstances of any given situation in question. For example, an individual who is driving barefoot, intoxicated, and speeding might face reckless driving charges. The barefoot state of the driver could underscore the carelessness of the driver’s actions, as the driver did not bother to put on shoes before taking to the road. It could also serve as evidence of the driver’s intoxication.
A barefoot person driving slowly down a quiet neighborhood street is less likely to face reckless driving charges than someone speeding barefoot through a congested area. In some cases, driving barefoot may be safer than operating a vehicle with flip-flops. If a person only has flip-flops and needs to drive, it could be more prudent to take off the flip-flops and proceed barefoot. People who cause accidents when their flip-flops slip on the car’s pedals could also face reckless driving charges. Although the states do not prohibit driving barefoot, for all the reasons discussed above and more, wearing proper footwear is generally a good idea when operating a vehicle.
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