What is a soft shoulder and can it be dangerous?

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Sometimes a California motorist for some reason needs to pull onto a shoulder. However, at times you might see a sign that says “soft shoulder.” These are not common road signs, so it is likely you might be confused by it. If you find yourself in need of pulling over, you should know that a soft shoulder may not be a good place to take your vehicle and can even be dangerous.

Drivers expect shoulders to be as strong as an ordinary road, to be constructed of the same asphalt or concrete that makes up the road they are driving on. But as reference.com explains, sometimes a road shoulder may actually be made of weaker material than the road it is close to. Some shoulders are composed of gravel, compressed dirt, or a combination of various materials. The result is a surface that is not generally safe for driving. So if you see a soft shoulder sign, you should consider the shoulder to be unstable.

One of the problems you might face if you turn onto a soft shoulder is a lack of traction. Vehicle wheels need a solid, dry surface for the driver to maintain control. When a road ices up, a driver could have trouble turning or stopping the vehicle in time. Soft shoulders are no exception. While they may not be as slippery as an icy road, a vehicle nonetheless can lose some traction. This can also be a problem if someone brakes while one set of wheels is on the shoulder but the other set remains on the road.

Also, soft shoulders may be lower than the roads they are next to. Consequently, when a motorist turns off a road, for a moment the vehicle will be suspended over two unequal surfaces. This might present some problems while steering the vehicle onto the shoulder. For these reasons, soft shoulders should only be used if an emergency situation is present and a driver simply has to get off the road.

Keep in mind that this article is presented as general knowledge. It does not convey to readers any legal advice on motor vehicle accidents.

Jeffrey R. Smith

Jeffrey R. Smith

Managing Partner

Robert B. Waldsmith

Robert J. Waldsmith

Partner, 1999

William B. Smith

William B. Smith

Partner, 1978

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