It’s summer in Australia and the old myth about is it illegal to wear thongs while driving pops up again. We debunk it so you know what you can and can’t do.

THERE ARE A whole bunch of things that people will tell you are true but aren’t. And the motoring myths we’ll be exploring today fall into that camp. But, like all good myths, there’s a slight grain of truth to them.

Is it illegal to wear thongs (or high heels) while driving?

Rather than the act being illegal, it comes to the discretion of the police officer if you happen to be pulled over. Let’s start off with footwear because it covers the whole eating, drinking and smoking in the car myth.

It isn’t illegal to wear thongs while driving, or stilettos, and nor is it illegal to drive bare feet. You can search through the regulations for every single State and Territory and you won’t find anything talking about your footwear while driving. But, that doesn’t stop the police from having discretionary powers around being in ‘proper control’ of your vehicle.

See, if a police officer thinks you’re driving erratically, pulls you over and discovers you’re driving while wearing thongs and believes that might be the cause, then you can be booked for not being in proper control of your vehicle. And, in NSW, the fine is $457 and you’ll get three demerit points. But then, even hanging your arm on the window sill (fat arming) is a bookable offence, with fines ranging from $344 for either the driver or passenger (depending on who is hanging their arm out the window) and up to three points.

So, is it illegal to eat and drink while driving?

The above also applies to things like eating in the car, drinking while driving (non-alcohol, of course) and smoking.

None of it is illegal per se, but if a police officer thinks you don’t have proper control of the vehicle then he/she could pin it on one of those things as the cause and you’ll be fined. So, it’s not illegal but you could be booked.

But here’s why you shouldn’t do it

There’s more to all of this than the potential to be booked while wearing thongs or munching on a burger at lunchtime. It all comes back to car control, and road safety.

If you’ve ever tried driving while wearing thongs then you’ll know it’s not particularly easy; your thong can easily catch under a pedal. And slipping off your thongs and driving bare feet can be just as bad because as you brake the thongs could slide forwards and catch under the pedal and prevent you from using the brakes.

And it can happen to anyone with even the best intentions. For this writer, it was a water bottle. I was doing high speed runs down a runway with none other than Allan Moffat in the seat beside me but one of the passengers in the back had dropped a bottle of water and it ended up flying forwards from under the seat and becoming wedged under the brake pedal. All I remember is going for the brake and nothing happening. Allan looked across at me as I stabbed at the pedal again. I looked down saw the water bottle and kicked it out from under the brake pedal and then slammed on the brakes.

We were doing well over 250km/h and fast running out of runway. But even at 100km/h, just one second could be the difference between stopping safely or having a serious collision.

And a note on wearing headphones

What about wearing earphones while driving? Again, it comes down to whether a police officer considers that the cause of you not having proper control of the vehicle. So, it’s not technically illegal, but then there’s the issue of what it’s connected to and whether it’s legal to use that device while driving.

For instance, it’s illegal to hold or touch a mobile phone while driving and if you are using the navigation and your phone isn’t synced to your vehicle, then it must be in a fixed mount that doesn’t obscure your vision.

So, while it’s not illegal to wear earphones while driving it is illegal to use the thing they’d likely be connected to. And there’s a good chance you won’t hear what’s going on around you.

Caveat: While everything we’ve written is accurate as at time of publication, it shouldn’t be considered as legal advice. Always check with local authorities if you’re unsure of anything you’ve read here or anywhere else on the internet.

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  1. I’ve driven in thongs for close to 50 years. It’s more what you’re familiar with – I’ve only driven once in steel-capped safety boots with rugged soles (which I wasn’t used to wearing at all) and that was the only time I’ve felt uncomfortable driving.

  2. In my opinion there’s a fair degree of hypocrisy on the behalf of law makers. Take your phone out of your shirt pocket and immediately place it in the centre console and you could win a ticket for “touching your phone” whilst driving.

    The lunacy is that regulators and law makers have turned a blind eye to DRIVER’s infotainment systems which must be close to the ultimate distraction. Our Govts need to plan for MORE fatal smashes including head-ons and rear enders as drivers playing with infotainment systems blindly tun over each other and roadside furniture.

    This need for driver attention to the road needs to extend to driver controls inside the car. Compare the demister knob in BF Falcon to that of the FG Falcon. The BF has a knob that is big enough for a driver to feel for. The FG has a smaller switch that demands a shift in focus away ftom the road to the dashboard. Let’s see Australian Standards enforce sensible switches and controls that need to be accessed by drivers.

    The enthusiast who carves through a few curves in his WRX without ever taking his eyes off the road (because to do so is ANATHEMA) will probably cop a fine too. But I’d put money on him being much less likely to run over pedestrians and other people at risk (such as cops) working on the road.

    If the cops and governments encourage pride in driving rather than trying to stamp out enthusiasts we might have a few less crashes. For a start there’s a need to stamp out the young nutters who learned to drive using computer games. Flat stick on a computer game does not qualify a youthful driver for glat stick in an AWD twin turbo.

    And yes USING your phone whilst driving certainly deserves a fine. I guess the TOUCHING the phone law is merely there to make it easier to enforce.

    1. Agreed – and some controls are hidden inside menus, often illogical.

      To dim the dashboard lighting on my new TOYOTA needs to go 3 deep through a menu system, I didn’t count, but at least a dozen “keystrokes” of the buttons on the wheel are required. My last car had a simple knob.

  3. “Bottle water under the brake pedal”, reminds me the movie “Final destination”, what happened next? I’ll let you watch the movie.

  4. Resting your arm on the window sill is not an offence at all, as you wrongly stated in the article.
    As long as no portion of your body protrudes past the vehicle, or actually hangs out of the vehicle.
    I could never understand why drivers, male in particular think it’s cool or necessary to leave an arm limply dangling outside, when they are driving, how are they meant to indicate, or have proper control of the wheel when driving?

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