No sandals allowed: After student suggestion, Matt Willhite files bill regulating minors on motor vehicles

Willhite courted bill proposals from high school students in his district.

A new measure from Democratic Rep. Matt Willhite would require minors operating a motorized vehicle to wear closed-toed footwear to help prevent injury.

The bill (HB 437) is notable not just because of its substance, but its origin. Willhite filed the bill after a suggestion from a local high school student in his House District 86, which cover parts of Palm Beach County.

This year, House members were granted seven bill slots, up from the usual cap of six. Willhite, a Wellington Democrat, announced he would be courting suggestions for that extra bill slot from local high school students. After the submission period ended, a proposal from Ethan Douglas of Wellington High School won.

“I recognize that young people are the future of our country,” Willhite said.

“When I was provided this seventh bill slot, I thought it would be a great way to engage young adults, and help start building the bridge for our next generation of leaders.”

Willhite’s bill would apply to riders 18 years old or younger. Those individuals riding a motorized vehicle — defined as a motorcycle, motorized bicycle or autocycle — cannot “operate or ride upon” the vehicle “unless he or she is wearing closed-toe shoes.” That goes for drivers as well as passengers.

The law would take effect on July 1, 2021, if successful.

The new safety measure would build on Willhite’s work in the health and safety sphere. An experienced firefighter, Willhite has successfully pushed legislation helping the state coordinate policies regarding Alzheimer’s disease, ensuring firefighters have health benefits for cancer diagnoses and increasing access to prescription medication.

“As a first responder, I’ve seen the awful injuries that can happen even in a low speed accident in something like a golf cart or motorcycle,” Willhite said.

“If this bill becomes law, it will help protect young people from lifelong scars or disability due to improper footwear.”

Willhite secured his third term representing HD 86 this past November with a win over Republican candidate Susan Kufdakis Rivera.

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected].

One comment

  • Lex

    January 27, 2021 at 10:07 am

    My understanding is that the law in Florida used to be that close toed shoes were required for all motor vehicles. Many people were operating vehicles in Florida without shoes at all and sandals were decided to be a good compromise so that people would at least were sandals.

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