The rules of the road in the UK can be complex, from requirements around blind spots and bus stops to seat belts and speed limits. It is therefore not surprising that few of us are clear on the rules when it comes to what you can legally wear on your feet when driving.
The following guide for motorists on the law on driving shoes looks at what the rules say on footwear restrictions, including the consequences of failing to drive in suitable footwear.
What is the law on footwear while driving?
There are no express requirements when it comes to what a driver can and cannot wear on their feet when driving a motor vehicle. However, under Rule 97 of the Highway Code, before you set off in your vehicle, you should ensure that your clothing and footwear do not prevent you from using the controls of your motor vehicle in the correct manner.
Although the relevant provisions of Rule 97 of the Highway Code are simply advisory, rather than mandatory, wearing footwear in which you are clearly incapable of driving a vehicle safely will still potentially put you at risk of breaking the law in the UK.
Penalties for not wearing the correct driving shoes
Even though the Highway Code is not actual law in the UK, many of the rules within the Code contain legal requirements. These requirements are clearly identified within each rule by wording like ‘MUST’ or ‘MUST NOT’, rather than ‘SHOULD’ or ‘SHOULD NOT’. That said, when it comes to driving shoes, there are no express prohibitions or requirements.
Still, if you are unable to drive your vehicle safely, not least if you cause an accident because of this, you could be prosecuted for any one of a number of driving offences. In particular, under section 41D of the Road Traffic Act (RTA) 1988, a person who drives a motor vehicle in a way that does not give them proper control will be guilty of an offence.
Section 41D could apply to any in-car activity that can potentially impede your driving ability, including eating, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes or putting on makeup, although it can also include wearing unsafe and unsuitable driving shoes, where the guidance set out under Rule 97 of the Highway Code is likely to be cited in court to clarify the standard of behaviour — and choice of footwear — expected of a competent driver.
The offence of failing to have proper control of a vehicle, of itself, can result in a £1,000 fine and a discretionary disqualification or 3 penalty points on your driving licence. Equally, getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle in unsuitable driving shoes could also lead to a number of other possible criminal charges, including:
- Careless or inconsiderate driving: this can result in an unlimited fine and discretionary disqualification or, alternatively, 3 to 9 penalty points on your driving licence;
- Causing serious injury by careless or inconsiderate driving: this can result in a maximum penalty of 2 years’ imprisonment and an unlimited fine, with an obligatory minimum 12-month disqualification;
- Causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving: this can result in a maximum penalty of 5 years’ imprisonment and an unlimited fine, with an obligatory minimum 12-month disqualification;
- Dangerous driving: this can result in a maximum penalty of 2 years’ imprisonment and an unlimited fine, with an obligatory minimum 12-month disqualification;
- Causing serious injury by dangerous driving: this can result in a maximum penalty of 5 years’ imprisonment and an unlimited fine, with an obligatory minimum 2-year disqualification;
- Causing death by dangerous driving: this can result in a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and an unlimited fine, with an obligatory minimum 5-year disqualification.
Importantly, if you are involved in an accident and your choice of footwear is deemed to be a contributing factor, it will be very difficult to defend any charge(s) brought against you.
Can you legally drive in sandals in the UK?
Strictly speaking, it is not illegal to drive in sandals. Equally, by wearing sandals, you will not automatically be in breach of the legal requirement under section 41D of the RTA 1988, nor will you automatically be failing to adhere to the guidance set out under Rule 97 of the Highway Code. This is because wearing sandals as driving shoes does not necessarily mean that you will not have proper control of the vehicle, and nor does it mean that you will be clearly incapable of driving that vehicle safely. In many cases, sandals will not pose any problems when it comes to using the controls of your motor vehicle in the correct manner.
Still, if the soles of the sandals are especially slippy or your choice of footwear does not otherwise allow you to adequately manipulate the pedals to retain control of the vehicle, this could result in erratic driving or even an accident for which you are potentially responsible. As such, whether or not it is safe to drive in sandals will all come down to the style of sandal in question and how these impact your driving ability, if at all.
Can you legally drive in flip flops in the UK?
As with sandals, there is currently no explicit law in the UK that bans driving in flip flops. However, Rule 97 of the Highway Code is especially pertinent here where, before setting out on a journey, motorists are advised that footwear should not prevent use of the vehicle’s controls in the correct manner. While this guidance is open to interpretation, getting behind the wheel in flip flops, either wet, covered in sand or even clean and dry, could be deemed dangerous by the police if they feel it could prevent you from operating the pedals correctly.
If the police see you attempting to get into the driver’s seat with what they deem to be inappropriate footwear to control the vehicle, it is likely that they will warn you not to do so, rather than penalise you. In reality, however, it is more likely that any decision to drive in flip flops would only come under consideration in the event of a road traffic accident, rather than merely when entering the car, although none of us would like to find ourselves in a situation where we have been involved in an accident for which we may be held to blame. It is also possible that if a crash came about because of your choice of footwear, where this is found to be a relevant factor, some insurers may refuse to pay out.
It is worth bearing in mind that while flip flops may be a comfortable choice of footwear for walking about in, there are all sorts of potential risks that can arise when driving a motor vehicle. The fact that flip flops have no back, and the rubber soles are highly flexible, they can easily become caught underneath a pedal. Your feet can also easily slip and slide about in flip flops, reducing the control that you have over the vehicle when driving. The same or similar risks also apply to driving a motor vehicle in sliders or crocs, where either of these types of shoes can prevent you from having proper control of the vehicle.
Is it illegal to drive in high heels in the UK?
As with flip flops (or sliders and crocs), driving in heels has the potential to cause a number of problems. This can include any one or all of the following:
- getting your heel(s) stuck in the floor of the vehicle
- having the tip of the heel slip off the pedal when applying pressure
- distorting your ability to apply the correct amount of pressure to the pedals, where high heels unnaturally elevate the foot
- having to push your seat back to accommodate your increased stature, which can impact the safety of your driving if you are not used to this position.
Ultimately, whether or not you can safely drive in high heels is a matter of personal judgement, although it may be wise to keep a pair of flat shoes in your car for driving. In this way, the heel of your foot will be seated on the floor when driving, thereby achieving the correct pedal action to allow you to apply the right amount of pressure.
Is driving in slippers illegal in the UK?
As with any of the other examples of driving shoes, you can technically drive in slippers in the UK, but this could still get you into trouble with the law. The soles of slippers do not tend to have the same level of grip as those found on standard shoes, where this could result in your foot sliding on the pedal. As such, you could be charged with careless driving if the police determine that your lack of shoes caused you to drive erratically. You could also be charged with a far more serious offence if you cause a road traffic accident.
Is it illegal to drive barefoot in the UK?
There is a great level of uncertainty surrounding whether or not it is illegal to drive barefoot in the UK, with typically numerous reasons cited as to why you will be breaking the law if you do so. Technically, however, it is not illegal to drive in the UK without shoes, although you can only get behind the wheel of a vehicle barefoot if you are able to operate the controls safely. If you do so with wet feet, for example, you may be putting yourself, any passengers and other road-users at risk by not being able to drive the car safely.
According to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), the body responsible for regulating the UK driving test, suitable shoes are especially important behind the wheel because, with bare feet, you do not have the same braking force as you do with shoes on. As such, the DVSA does not recommend that anyone drives a motor vehicle barefoot.
What driving shoes should you avoid in the UK?
It seems obvious that we should not wear shoes that impede our driving ability, but many of us have done this at some point in our driving careers without actually realising it. For example, you may have got in the car wearing sandals or flip flops during the summer, heavy boots in winter or heels at any time. Still, having experienced some kind of difficulty in driving in a particular pair of shoes, most of us would generally avoid doing it again.
As a rule of thumb, it is advisable not to wear sandals, flip flops or high-heeled shoes when driving. This is because these types of shoes could prevent you from using the controls of your motor vehicle in the correct manner and, as such, will not give you the best chance of reacting quickly and avoiding any potentially hazardous issues on the road. In the same way that you would not go jogging in unsuitable running shoes, it is highly likely that driving in certain types of footwear will pose a risk of danger to both you and other roads-users. The same applies to sliders, crocs and slippers when it comes to compromising safety.
What shoes should you wear when driving in the UK?
For maximum control while driving, without compromising on safety, the following basic guidelines should be used when selecting driving shoes:
- the sole of your shoes should be no thicker than 10mm, so as not to reduce your awareness of the pressure applied to the pedals, although the sole should not be too thin or too soft so that it reduces your ability to brake properly
- your driving shoes should provide enough grip to stop your feet from slipping off the pedals
- your driving shoes should not be too heavy or limit your ankle movement, and must also be narrow enough to avoid accidentally depressing two pedals at once.
While flimsy, light and impractical footwear can be dangerous when driving, so can sturdy, robust shoes, such as walking or snow boots. It is important for footwear to have a good base and grip to be able to apply pressure to the vehicle’s pedals, but you also need to be able to adequately manipulate the controls to avoid striking the brake and accelerator together. Basically, the best sort of driving footwear is a simple flat shoe or trainer, offering a good balance between sturdiness and suppleness to allow easy control of the pedals.
Driving shoes FAQs
What footwear should you wear when driving?
There are no express prohibitions or restrictions on footwear when driving a vehicle in the UK, although you should ensure that your driving shoes do not prevent you from using the controls of your motor vehicle in the correct manner.
What is appropriate footwear for driving UK?
When selecting suitable driving shoes, these should have a sole no thicker than 10mm, although the sole should not be too thin or too soft so that it reduces your ability to brake properly. They should also have good grip.
Is any footwear illegal to drive in?
Strictly speaking, there are no prohibitions against any specific type of footwear when driving a vehicle in the UK. However, your choice of driving shoes must not prevent you from driving safely, otherwise you could still be breaking the law.
Is it legal to drive in socks?
It is not illegal to drive in socks, although this could cause your feet to slip, putting you at risk of committing a driving offence, such as failure to have proper control of the vehicle.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.