Feet, Footwear and Safe Driving
Crash avoidance and bringing the vehicle to a sudden stop requires not only effective brakes but also the ability to react swiftly and apply adequate pressure to the brake pedal.
Despite this awareness, few drivers pay enough attention to the footwear that would best enable them to control their vehicles safely! In a recent survey, many female drivers confessed that their choice of what to wear is based on what goes best with their outfit rather than what is the safest footwear to drive.
In this section, we would like to focus on the risks presented by wearing inappropriate footwear and offer some suggestions towards safer driving.
What do the Rules of the Road require?
Very few countries have legislation stipulating any requirements as to appropriate footwear for driving. Most road safety legislation requires drivers to ensure that "clothing and footwear do not prevent you using the controls in the correct manner".
South African law also does not say anything about the footwear drivers should be wearing. It is not illegal to drive barefoot, with flip flops or high heels. It is up to us to create awareness of why inappropriate footwear can be extremely dangerous!
Your footwear and ability to drive safely
The choices we make on the road have an impact on more than ourselves - it places our passengers and other road users at risk every time we get in the car.
The choice of footwear for safe driving must allow the foot to feel the pressure needed by the pedals to achieve the desired braking or acceleration. Our footwear should never obstruct the feeling required by the feet to operate the pedals properly. It should allow us to judge accurately how much pressure we needs to apply to the clutch, accelerator and brake pedals.
The correct footwear will prevent us from pressing two pedals at the same time - a dangerous manoeuvre that could be costly! It could even enable us to avoid abrupt and jerky movements ,thereby reducing unnecessary wear and tear on the vehicle.
Driving long distances can be very demanding on our feet and ankles. By wearing the right shoes and leaving the feet feel relaxed, we can enhance the control we have over the vehicle and react faster to changes in traffic or road conditions!
If there is a choice between driving in high heels, flip flops or bare feet, by far the safest option is bare feet. Some drivers find it easier to drive bare foot as it allows them to gain a better 'feel' for the car, in particular the clutch bite point. As a result, driving bare foot helps some from stalling the vehicle.
There are however risks associated with driving barefoot:
- The clutch may require heavy pressure to be applied.
- It is a relatively small pedal exerting a lot of pressure on the ball of the foot, whereas, the sole of a shoe distributes that pressure more evenly.
- Repeated use of the clutch could end up being painful, causing cramp or other spasms in the foot and reducing the ability of the driver towards effective control of the vehicle.
- Operating the pedals with bare wet feet may become slippery as the feet become damp with perspiration.
- Nylon socks or tights can reduce traction between your foot and the pedals and don't allow the foot to grip pedals.
- Your foot could slip off the pedal easily because you don’t have the same grip as shoes give you.
- In the unfortunate event of an accident, appropriate driving shoes are likely to offer a reduction in foot injury.
- In cases of traffic crashes with nothing to protect the feet, you may tread on broken glass and debris and sustain major injuries.
Driving with Flip Flops
Many South African drivers have experienced the dangers of driving with flip-flops. With our warm climate and clear skies many drive with flip flops for far more than a drive to the beach!
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 - even more dangerous than the more often discussed and criticized high heel driving!
Why is driving with flip-flops so dangerous?
- Flip-flops do not have adequate ankle support, resulting in the foot slipping off the pedal or missing the pedal altogether.
- They come off too easily and get easily jammed / trapped under a pedal.
- Pedals getting caught between the sole of your foot and the flip-flop leads to a reduction of control to the vehicle.
- Flip -flops make it more difficult to brake effectively as it increases the amount of time it takes to brake.
- They make it difficult for drivers applying full braking or releasing the clutch brake or accelerator.
- Flip flops slipping off the feet of the driver distracts the driver trying to locate the flip flop and putting it back on his foot.
- Similar to driving barefoot, the flip-flops leave the feet mostly exposed in the event of a frontal crash.
- While footwear is unlikely to prevent these injuries, a suitable pair of shoes may assist in reducing injuries in less serious crashes.
- If a suitable pair of shoes is not available, it will be safer to remove the flip flops and drive bare foot.
Driving with High Heels and Platform shoes
Female drivers are often warned of the risks of driving with high heels! But why is this so dangerous?
- For safe driving the heel of your foot needs to be on the floor to apply the correct pressure on the pedals.
- Both accelerator and brake pedals are worked with the heel on the floor.
- Having the heel of your foot resting on the car floor allows a driver to move from the accelerator to the brake faster and easier and to apply pressure on the pedals.
- High heels elevate it and distort the ability to measure how much pressure needs to be applied.
- High heels offer reduced grip from an uncomfortable driving position
- High heels also have the added danger of the heel getting caught in the floor mat.
- Getting stuck under the pedal or on the carpet/ floor mat is a major risk - you may not be able to react swiftly when having to brake or accelerate quickly.
- The only thing worse than high heels is platform wedges - a double whammy of high heels and thick soles.
- Ladies who like to wear the high heels or platform shoes should rather change into these before going out of the vehicle.
There is some other footwear that might also present some risks to safe driving. Boots may be restrictive of ankle movement, and knee-length styles can catch against the seat.
Even though light trainer shoes are just about perfect, remember that some running shoes may not be the best shoes to drive in because some soles are thick and padded.
Advice on footwear for safe driving
We have discussed many of the risks - but what do we recommend? Even though some of the sportswear manufacturers offer specific footwear for motorsport professionals, we would like to offer guidance to the everyday driver:
- Your footwear/ shoes must be comfortable enough for long driving.
- The most important consideration is to focus on the sole of the shoe.
- The sole should neither be too thick or too thin.
- It should not be too soft or too flexible and it should have enough grip on the pedal to avoid slipping.
- It should be lightweight to enable easy movement - it is important not to hinder ankle movement in working various pedals.
- Ensure that the sole is not so wide that it might cause you to step on two pedals at the same time.
- The sole of the shoe should be no thicker than 2.5 cm, but something along the lines of 4mm is even better.
- The basic trainer shoes & plain flat walking shoes are best suited for driving - The typical leather shoe worn by business people is a good choice for driving.
- It fits well without being uncomfortable and is bulky enough to offer some foot protection in crashes.
- In the event of vehicle breakdown or a flat tyre you might be better off with comfortable shoes than being barefoot or in high heels next to the road.
Apart from the appropriate footwear when driving, there are some additional suggestions to consider:
- Female drivers are often more cautious and follow the advice to keep a spare pair of shoes in the vehicle for days when they are wearing heels but have to drive.
- When you do have an extra pair of shoes, do not leave them behind your feet where they could slide forward and obstruct the brake or clutch.
- Be extra careful in wet weather. Slippery soles make it easier for your foot to slip off the pedals.
- Keep a small towel in the vehicle to dry the soles of your shoes if you have to walk through water to get to the vehicle.
Whether you drive to a gala dinner or the beach, it does not matter what you wear if you do not arrive safely! May we all remain focused on effective control of our vehicle as we head to our destinations!