Is Driving Shirtless Illegal?
There are many important car safety laws. There are even some weird driving laws. But there is no law expressly prohibiting driving shirtless–for either men or women. But your car is a public space. While operating your car, you must obey laws governing public spaces. Several states prohibit women from being shirtless in public. Every state prohibits people from purposely exposing themselves to harass or disturb others.
There are no traffic laws about drivers’ clothing
There are many common-sense things not to wear when driving. These range from eyewear that impairs your vision to boots that get in the way of using one pedal at a time. But there are no laws about what not to wear, or to wear, while driving.
You may ask, “what about shoes?” Many people believe it is illegal to drive barefoot. But in truth, no state has a law against driving barefoot. There are no traffic laws concerning driver outfits.
While you are driving around, your car is a public space. It is not a private space, like the inside of your house. Therefore, a driver’s outfit (or lack of) is governed by local penal law for public spaces.
Three states prohibit public toplessness
There is no federal law prohibiting men–or women–from driving without a shirt. This is why it is common to see men driving shirtless on hot days.
Recently, many states have passed laws specifying that female-bodied people can be shirtless in any public space where male-bodied people can be shirtless. Today, only three states expressly prohibit women from being topless in public. These states are Tennessee, Indiana, and Utah.
Thirteen states have no specific laws allowing or prohibiting women from being topless in public, so it is a murky legal area. Many cities ban toplessness, sometimes even contradicting state law. It is important to research local laws.
Driving shirtless could attract indecent exposure charges
Vehicle operators are not exempt from public indecency laws. Indecent exposures is defined differently in every state, so it is important to know local laws.
Generally, indecent exposure requires purposeful exposure aimed to “disturb” or “harass” others. For example, in California, deliberately exposing oneself to either annoy or offend others is indecent exposure. But in some cases, bystanders complaining that they are “disturbed” was enough to get the law involved.