The 'shoulder' of a road is the land at the edge of the road, next to the travel lanes. These are created to benefit drivers and act as temporary parking areas for broken down vehicles and as temporary driving lanes during emergencies. Additionally, shoulders also protect the roads by adding lateral support to the pavement and keeping water away from the surface.
Hard shoulders are paved extensions of the main road, usually made of the same material as the road. On the other hand, soft shoulders are usually unpaved and made of dirt or gravel materials. Given the similarity in the material of hard shoulders and roads, hard shoulders are often safer to drive on than soft shoulders. However, driving on these other than in emergencies is illegal in most states and should be avoided unless necessary.
Soft Shoulder signs tell drivers that the side of the road is made from a different material and may not be safe for driving on. These signs may also indicate that the road conditions increase the danger of stopping on the shoulder and alert drivers to exercise caution.
Upon spotting a Soft Shoulder sign, you should be alerted that the side of the road is soft and unsafe for driving. The sign tells you that you must not leave the main roadway for a soft shoulder except in an emergency and even then, you should return to the paved roadway as soon as the situation allows.
Soft shoulders should only be used during emergencies, such as when a vehicle breaks down. These should not be driven on under normal conditions as not only is this illegal in most states and dangerous. The difference in surfaces of soft shoulders and the roadway is significant enough to pose a potential danger in the form of wheels losing traction, vehicle skidding, and so on. Drivers may also find it difficult to control the steering wheel and apply brakes.
Additionally, the height difference between soft shoulders and the roadway presents can also hamper safe driving. Hence, it is not a good idea to opt for a soft shoulder over a roadway unless essential.
Yes. Shoulder signs, including Soft Shoulder signs among others, are detailed in Section 2C.31 of the MUTCD. The section provides information about the purpose and placement of different types of shoulder signs shown in Figure 2C-6.
The Soft Shoulder sign, W8-4, is a diamond-shaped sign with the words "SOFT SHOULDER" on two lines.