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driving concerns

When I was in Quebec years ago, it was illegal to drive your car or any motorized vehicle with open footwear or barefoot. You had to have closed shoes. Is this the law in Canada and the United States? – Dante

There's no law in Canada that bans barefoot driving. Anyone who says different is pulling your leg.

"It's an urban myth, according to my police sources," writes Brian Smiley, spokesman for the Manitoba Public Insurance.

We asked every province. There are no laws that say what you can – or can't – wear on your feet while driving a car or motorcycle. So, it's legal to drive barefoot or wearing sandals or flip-flops.

The Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ), the provincial insurer, says there's no law – past or present – in Quebec that bans shoeless driving.

"We do not have any idea where that myth comes from," writes SAAQ spokesperson Audrey Chaput.

Quebec does require shoes when driving off-road or in an all-terrain vehicle, Chaput says.

It's a myth in the United States, too. We couldn't find any federal or state laws against driving barefoot or in flip-flops. Some states, like Alabama, require motorcycle riders to wear shoes.

The myth may be on shaky footing, but many people believe it anyway.

"The driving myth we hear the most from people is that it's illegal to drive in bare feet – but the law doesn't say that," says Brampton, Ont., driving instructor Ian Law. "It doesn't even say in the Highway Traffic Act that you have to wear clothes while driving."

Flip-flops and you don't stop?

If your footwear, or lack of it, causes you to drive erratically or get in a crash, you could be charged with careless driving.

Official rules aside, it's a bad idea to drive barefoot or in flip-flops, Law says. Bare feet could slip on the pedals. And stepping on gravel or a pebble stuck in the pedals could make a driver pull his feet back when hitting the brakes. Flip-flops and loose shoes or sandals could fall off your feet and get jammed under the pedals.

"You need to be able to feel the pedals properly," Law says. "We strongly recommend that drivers use thin-soled shoes and stay away from open toes."

In a 2013 poll by a British insurer, 27 per cent of drivers said flip-flops had been responsible for an accident or a near-miss.

It's bad to drive in thick work, hiking or winter boots, too, Law says. He heard of one driver who drove his truck into a river and swore the brakes were broken because the pedal wouldn't go down.

"The brakes were fine," Law says. "He had a steel-toed work boot underneath the pedal and didn't know because he couldn't feel it."

Law suggests driving in a pair of sneakers or tennis shoes and then changing when you get to the campsite or beach. Or to work – high-heels or hard-soled dress shoes are bad for driving too and should be kicked to the curb, Law says.

"A lot of fancy shoes, you can't feel the pedals and be sure that you're actually making contact," Law says. "It might look really good to be wearing fancy shoes, but it doesn't look too good to be wrapped around a lamppost because your foot missed the brake pedal."

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