Is driving in flip flops illegal? The most common driving myths explained - from dodgy footwear to eating at the wheel

Clearing up confusion on whether it’s legal to drive barefoot, when you can use your mobile phone and leaving an interior light on while drivng

By Matt Allan
Monday, 17th May 2021, 2:30 pm
Updated Monday, 17th May 2021, 5:33 pm
Common driving myths debunked
Common driving myths debunked

Driving is an activity surrounded by rules and regulations. We learn about most of these from the Highway Code but along with the official guidance most drivers are at some point offered advice by friends and family on the well-known rules of the road.

Sadly a lot of this well-meant information is more fiction than fact so we’ve taken a look at some of the most common motoring myths and the truth behind them.

It’s illegal to drive in flip flops or barefoot

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Eating at the wheel isn't illegal but you do have to make sure you're fully in control of your vehicle

As soon as the sun comes out, so does this old chestnut but it simply isn’t true. There is no legislation that sets out what footwear is or isn’t legal for driving. However, the law does say you must be able to operate your car’s controls properly and if your footwear - whether it’s sandals, high heels or welly boots - affects this you can still get into trouble.

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency also advises against driving barefoot in summer, saying: “We would not recommend driving barefoot because you don’t have the same braking force with bare feet as you do with shoes on.”

It’s illegal to eat while driving

We’ve all heard stories of drivers being pulled over by police and charged for eating or drinking at the wheel but, in fact, there’s no law against it. However, if police think that you are not in proper control of your vehicle or you’re distracted because you’re eating or drinking they can charge you with careless driving. A 2012 study by the University of Leeds also suggested that the reaction times of motorists who were eating were up to 44 per cent slower than usual.

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All speed cameras flash if you’ve been caught

Not so. There are many different types of speed cameras and while some do flash when they function that’s not true of all of them, so the first you might know is when the dreaded Notice of Intended Prosecution drops through your letterbox.

You won’t be fined for doing less than 10% over the speed limit

Another common speeding myth, although one that has some basis in fact. The speed limit is just that - a limit - and if you exceed it you can be charged. However, guidance issued to police officers suggests they employ a discretionary buffer of 10 per cent plus 2mph. The National Police Chiefs’ Council says this is to ensure enforcement is proportionate but officers can still charge you for doing 1mph if they choose.

Changing lanes will fool average speed cameras

Another speeding-related tale that has a grain of truth behind it. When they were first introduced, it was possible to confused average speed cameras by changing lanes. However, the technology has been upgraded since then and the latest systems can monitor your speed whatever your road position.

It is illegal to have an interior light on when driving

This particular piece of accepted wisdom is as almost as old as the motorcar but it’s simply untrue. If police think that having the light on is affecting your driving or could distract other motorists they can ask you to switch it off but there’s no law to say you can’t have it on.

You can’t use your phone as a sat nav

There is still some confusion around using a mobile phone while driving, and with a £200 fine and six penalty points if you break the law, you want to be sure you’re following the rules. You can use a phone’s mapping app for navigation but there are certain conditions. It must be properly, securely mounted in a position that doesn’t obstruct your vision and you’re not allowed to operate the touchscreen when driving. So mount the device properly and make sure your route is plotted before setting off.

Fully comprehensive insurance lets you drive any car

This is another common belief which can lead to unwitting drivers falling foul of the law. Fully comp insurance used to, as a rule, provide third-party cover for driving another vehicle. In many cases it still does but some insurers have removed the “driving another car” allowance from their policies, meaning you should always check before borrowing someone else’s wheels. Driving without insurance is a serious business and can see you fined £300 and handed three penalty points.

You can’t have open alcohol in the car

It sounds obvious that you shouldn’t have booze around while driving but, bizarrely, there’s no law that says you can’t have open alcohol in your car, or stopping a passenger from drinking while you drive. The law only relates to the amount of alcohol in the driver’s blood and you’ll only be prosecuted if you are over the limit.

The only exception is that you can be prosecuted for drinking alcohol in a car while supervising a learner driver.

It’s illegal to use headphones

It seems silly to have anything that restricts your hearing but there’s no specific law against wearing headphones while driving. That doesn’t mean it’s sensible and Rule 148 of the

Highway Code states that drivers should avoid distractions such as loud music that could mask other sounds. If police think you were distracted or not in full control of your vehicle because you were wearing headphones they could charge you.