Let me start to say driving barefoot is NOT illegal in the US or, to the best of my knowledge, anywhere else. Here is a website debunking this commonly believed myth. There are instances of cops and driver's ed folks who have told people with platform shoes to take them off and better to drive barefoot. Now we got that out of the way, I have some thoughts of my own on driving barefoot and safety.
First, control of the gas/brakes. Many people who are rarely, if ever, barefoot, do no realize how strong a bare foot can be. As with any part of your body, and any muscles, if you rarely use them they aren't very strong. Many shod people think feet are rather soft, only usable as a whole (no fine motor control within the foot itself) and easily injured. As a person who goes barefoot full-time, I can tell you a foot, when used, can be much more than that. I can pick things up with my toes, and, more relevant for this discussion, I have a lot of control of my whole foot, arch and toes. When shod, you can press the gas, brake and clutch mostly using your ankle, unless you have *very* flexible shoes. Barefoot, you can use the foot as a whole to press lighter or harder. And in case of an emergency my foot is plenty strong to step down hard. I have seen people who never go barefoot who can do very little with the sad, dystrophic appendages on the end of their legs without the help of shoes, well if yours are like that, and if you wince at the idea of putting any pressure on the 'rough' surface of the pedals, then by all means wear shoes while driving. But I am quite confident in the strength of my own and those of many others who are less dependant on footwear.
Second, slippery? A bare foot is not slippery. I have walked barefoot over steep, grassy slopes where many people were sliding, even those who had rubber soles (the ones with lots of thread on their soles could handle it, but not those in tennis shoes). I stuck to it like a fly. Muddy bare feet can be slippery, sure, but a lot of shoes get slippery when wet and/or muddy! A better advise would be to make sure your feet (shod or bare) are dry when driving. If your shoes are muddy, take them off. And if you were shod, if you didn't look down, you may not have noticed the puddle next to your car until you feel you're slipping on the pedals, barefoot you would have noticed it right away.
Also, what about dress shoes? Many people wear shoes with leather soles with no thread at all. Be honest, how many of y'all who are against bare feet because they're 'slippery' are also against these?
Now, someone mentioned the risk of getting your feet mangled in an accident. I have no data about this, but I do have a few questions. Doesn't this go for hands, too? And how about wearing shorts and t-shirts in summer? I can see how covering up can help, just like a thick, padded winter coat might prevent cuts to the upper body. What is the difference between not wearing a winter coat and not wearing shoes? Do you suggest people cover up completely in summer as well? Wear gloves while driving?
I see it very often that people comment on my bare feet as 'dangerous' but never comment on other things that also can involve a risk, but are more common. We tend to take a lot of (small and not so small) risks for granted, but when we see something unusual, the risks get blown way out of proportion. Someone in a store will worry about glass or stubbed toes, while a dozen people entered that day on high heels without comment. And in my experience a twisted (not to mention broken) ankle is far more disabling than a stubbed toe or a glass splinter. I will do some asking around, but I strongly suspect this is another one of those cases where the bare feet are singled out because they are rare, and the bare hands & in summer a lot more bare skin, are not even noticed.
And even though some of the responses on the urban legends website did discourage bare feet, those were written by individuals. Likely by individuals who rarely go barefoot themselves, and who thus are likely to hold the opinions and prejudices I mentioned above. The legislative powers usually do more research into real dangers, and not just perceived risks. It should count for something that even though some of those people do not recommend bare feet, apparently not one of their states (nor any other) see a risk serious enough to have a law against it.
Here are a couple more examples of experts who think favorably of barefoot driving. First this website of the Michigan State Police debunks the myth that driving barefoot is illegal and states "Careless or reckless driving would really be a stretch, as an argument could be made that a barefoot person has more control over the pedals." And while the Insurance research director in this article from an Australian newspaper recommends low-heeled, thin-soled shoes, he also says that bare feet are more safe than many types of footwear commonly used by drivers.
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