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

Clint Eastwood poses shirtless in his Jaguar convertible. Traffic laws do not dictate drivers' outfits. Penal laws do. Driving shirtless is not illegal wherever being shirtless in public is legal. Drivers are not exempt from public decency and indecent exposure laws.  | Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Actor and director Clint Eastwood in his Jaguar convertible in 1965. | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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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

Actor George Nader poses shirtless in his Ford Victoria convertible in 1955. Traffic laws do not dictate drivers' outfits. Penal laws do. Driving shirtless is not illegal wherever being shirtless in public is legal. Drivers are not exempt from public decency and indecent exposure laws. | Graphic House/Archive Photos/Getty Images
Actor George Nader in his Ford Victoria convertible in 1955. | Graphic House/Archive Photos/Getty Images

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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.

But state laws vary. Some states have strange driving laws. Motorists in Kentucky must pull over for funerals. And at four-way intersections in Georgia women had the right of way for years.

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

Actor Michael Landon shirtless in his Jaguar XK140. Traffic laws do not dictate drivers' outfits. Traffic laws do not dictate drivers' outfits. Penal laws do. Driving shirtless is not illegal wherever being shirtless in public is legal. Drivers are not exempt from public decency and indecent exposure laws.| Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Actor Michael Landon in his Jaguar XK140, sometime in the 1950s. | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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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.

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