Last week, in Ticketed While Following the Law, we looked at how occasionally people claim they’ve been ticketed for barefoot driving. A lot of that seems pretty suspicious.
I’ve taken a bit of a look at that.
The earliest thing I found was this article from 1934:
Massachusetts Bans Barefoot Driving
Boston — (U.P.) — Barefoot driving has been banned in Massachusetts.
And Oakham resident wrote to Morgan T. Ryan, registrar of motor vehicles, asking if it were legal for a man or woman to go motoring with bare feet in summer weather.
“Bare feet might slide off the accelerator or the brake and constitute a danger,” Ryan replied in ruling against the proposed fad.
Ignorance knows no epoch, does it? And of course, it had to be Massachusetts.
But let me also note that I really doubt that the “registrar of motor vehicles” had any authority to actually ban anything—he has no power to make laws. In fact, reading the story, I suspect what really happened was that he was asked the question and he gave his opinion, knowing full well that that was all it was. It was probably a sloppy reporter who turned it into a “ruling” and a “ban”.
But his excuse is also so typical. Bare feet might slide off a pedal. Right. And patent leather shoes, with smooth leather sole, wouldn’t?
* * *
From 1934, the next time I found the barefoot driving question was a question to Ann Landers in 1968.
Dear Ann Landers: My husband and I have a running argument every summer. I would like to get it settled once and for all during the winter when we can both be more objective.
We live in the suburbs and I do a lot of driving. During the summer I find it easier to drive barefoot. My husband says this is not only dangerous but illegal. Yes or no? — BAREFOOT CONTESSA.
Dear Contessa: The laws vary according to the state. In Illinois it is not illegal to drive barefooted. While the motor vehicle department does not recommend barefoot driving a spokesman said both men and women often remove their shoes on long trips. He added this word of caution, “If you want to take off your shoes, take off your stockings also. Nylon is slippery and your foot could easily slide
off the brake.”
I also found this article from the same year.
Find Barefoot Driving Legal in All 50 States
DENVER, Cola. (AP) — If you want to take your driving test barefoot, go ahead. It’s legal.
However, a spokesman for the Colorado Driver Examination Department said the examiner probably would wonder about the driver’s mentality.
This information follows a survey by the Rocky Mountain Auto Association that determined barefoot driving is legal in all 50 states.
Proponents of barefoot driving, says the association, claim it can promote safety by making the nerve ends more alert. Others say a loose shoe might get stuck under the brake or entangled in the accelerator.
A classic case of “he said, she said” journalism, but we of course have the remedy: just never wear shoes and then there isn’t one to get stuck under the brake.
Let me also add that I have looked at a copy of the AAA Digest of Motor Laws from 1961, and they didn’t even include any section on barefoot driving back then. They did add such a section later (at least by 1988) because of all the questions they kept getting.
I also found an opinion from the Louisiana Attorney General in 1970:
MOTOR VEHICLES — BAREFOOT DRIVING – An examination of the Louisiana statutes discloses no authority for the premise that one should operate a motor vehicle with his shoes on. (Louisiana AGD — 1/22/70)
From there I’ve found the question being asked regularly and often.
So, I’d say Beach Bum hit the nail on the head. The barefoot driving myth also arose about the same time as NSNSNS signs, and was therefore probably a reaction to the protests and hippies of the 1960s.