These boots were made for walking…not driving

July 05, 2010

With the range of new technologies built into newer vehicles, driving is becoming safer than ever, but sometimes collisions occur because of a lack of driving preparedness – specifically our choice of footwear.

Warmer weather in Canada often generates the desire to wear less restricting and more breathable footwear. That new pair of shoes you bought for a summer party might look great, but you may want to rethink driving in them. Even a simple task like changing gears could cause a serious problem in the wrong type of shoes.

From high heels and flip-flops to platforms and boots, there are many footwear choices that can potentially contribute to the loss of control of your vehicle. A 2005 survey by an insurance company in the United Kingdom revealed that flip-flops are the most dangerous type of shoe to drive in. Three-quarters of the one thousand motorists questioned said they found it challenging to drive in flip-flops, however 25 per cent admitted to regularly driving in them. Under half of women drivers surveyed said they chose what shoes to wear based on what went best with their outfit rather than what was the safest footwear for driving in.

A similar report again from the UK revealed that 80 per cent of female drivers wear inappropriate footwear when in control of a car; a third of all female drivers confess to wearing flip-flops; and 18 per cent claim that they have worn no shoes at all when driving. While driving barefoot is not illegal in Canada, vehicle control can be compromised and is not recommended by Canada Safety Council. Your foot could slip off the pedal easily because you don’t have the same grip as shoes give you. In an emergency, insufficient pedal pressure given by a barefoot driver may lead to a collision. Also, driving barefoot could hinder your driving, making you subject to other fines.

Driving in high heels can cause several problems because of their lack of grip, tendency to get caught under the pedal, and the uncomfortable driving position that results from wearing them. The high heel can interfere with operation of the pedals, making it difficult to apply the appropriate pressure because the driver’s heel is suspended. In order for the driver to maintain the proper action on both the brake and acceleration pedal (also clutch for manual-transmission cars), the driver’s heel must always sit on the floor. Footwear with heels don’t allow for this. High heels also have the added danger of the heel getting caught in the floor mat. This is potentially a very risky situation because it may not give adequate time to react; i.e. having to brake or accelerate quickly.

Wedged shoes (such as espadrilles), platforms, flip-flops and other shoes are also potential risks while driving. Shoes without adequate ankle support can lead to your foot slipping off the pedal or missing the pedal altogether. In addition, the sole of your shoe can get trapped underneath the pedal when you lift up your foot to change gears. This can also occur while wearing boots. Boots tend to be heavy and can affect the pressure on the gas pedal. Shoes that have a really wide sole could press on both the gas pedal and brake pedal at the same time. It’s a good idea to wear shoes with thinner soles. Running shoes may not even be the best shoes to drive in because some soles are thick and padded. Walking shoes or any flat-soled shoes are better choices.

When looking for a shoe that is suitable for driving, you must make sure they have a thin sole and enough room to manoeuvre your ankles properly. This is important because it provides you with the best pedal pressure when braking or accelerating. If the sole is too thick, you will have a hard time feeling the pedals and the pressure you are putting on them. Shoes with soles over 2.5 centimeters are unsuitable for driving because they impede the feeling required by the foot to operate the pedals properly. Thicker soles usually mean more weight and that causes difficulties when it comes to maintaining a relaxed ankle or insuring easier sudden movements. Although flip-flops have thin soles, they are not recommended because they do not provide adequate ankle support and can slip off your foot easily.

Be extra careful in wet weather. Slippery soles make it easier for your foot to slip off the pedals. Before driving, make sure to wipe the soles of your shoes dry.

Keep an extra pair of good driving shoes in your car in case you find yourself wearing the wrong shoes. Just make sure to keep them out of the way of the gas and brake pedals, so they don’t get lodged under and potentially cause a collision.

Footwear that you should NOT drive in:

  • Platforms – they are heavy and have thick soles, so they’re awkward to manoeuvre on the pedals, restrict what you can feel, and risk becoming jammed.
  • Stilettos – high, sharply pointed heels risk becoming caught in the floor mat, and hold your foot at the wrong angle for driving safely.
  • Strappy sandals – flimsy, loose shoes may slip on the pedals, or expose your feet to painful abrasions.
  • Flip-flops, mules, and slippers – these are not secure enough and may slip off as you drive. You need shoes that stay securely on the foot.
  • Boots – too restrictive of ankle movement, and knee-length styles can catch against the seat.
  • Some running shoes – ones with thick, chunky soles restrict movement and the ridges may catch against the pedals. Not enough feel between your foot and the controls.

Footwear that IS good to drive in:

  • The sole of the shoe should be no thicker than 2.5 cm.
  • At the same time, the sole should not be too thin or too soft.
  • There should be enough grip to prevent the sole from slipping off the pedals.
  • The shoe should not be too heavy.
  • It should not limit ankle movement.
  • Thin-soled gym or walking shoes generally work fine.

— This article can also be found in Safety Canada July 2010 edition along with other safety advice.