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The Marceaux Law Firm

Is it illegal to drive on the shoulder in a traffic jam?


The rush hour traffic on 385 is always horrendous, but factor in that it’s Friday during construction season and—it’s about 50 times worse. In addition to that frustration, today is your son’s first high school game and you promised him you would be there. As you sit at a standstill, watching every minute tick by, you try to think of any and all shortcuts to the school. Suddenly, a car whizzes by you on the shoulder, passing everyone else in the traffic jam, in order to get to the next exit.

You shake your head in irritation, but in mid shake, you stop. Although it obviously annoys you when other people do it, today you really have to get home quickly—so what’s the real harm of bypassing this traffic just once, by following that other guy and using the shoulder?

Ramifications for the “Entitled” Shoulder User

We’ve all witnessed the frustrating sight of a driver attempting to bypass a traffic jam by using the shoulder as his own personal lane, with total disregard for the line of people waiting their turn. After 30 minutes at a standstill, he may have even tempted you to do the same. Hopefully, cooler heads prevailed and you opted to keep the shoulder clear. If not, you may have risked more than just the irritated glares of your fellow traffic jammers. These risks could have included:

  • Ticket – Riding the shoulder and using the shoulder as a lane—if not an emergency or highway vehicle—is illegal. If caught, you could be issued a moving violation ticket of anywhere between $25 and $150.
  • Collision – Although it is illegal, you may not be the only “seemingly entitled” driver who is willing to take the risk of being caught. Therefore, the shoulder may appear to be clear as you drive down it, but other cars may take the opportunity to move over without warning, causing a collision.
  • Longer wait – You should never underestimate the power of road rage, nor the camaraderie of an annoyed group. Every single person you wind up passing, whilst illegally riding the shoulder, is one more person who will not be willing to let you over when you have to merge. In addition to not being able to merge, you also run the risk of being blocked by a resourceful individual who may have positioned his car slightly in the shoulder to prevent such illegal acts. At this point, you’ll be stopped from merging and stopped from getting ahead.
  • Preventing authorized vehicles from getting through – The shoulder is specifically used for emergency personnel to be able to get through at times of traffic jams. If you find yourself blocking the shoulder when an emergency vehicle is trying to get through, you not only suffer the consequences of legal ramifications, but you may also be liable for damages sustained if you prevented or delayed an ambulance from getting to a victim.
  • Jail time – If your actions directly result in the loss of life—by collision or delaying emergency vehicles—you could run the risk of being prosecuted for endangerment or negligent homicide.


Therefore, the next time you’re stuck in a traffic jam, and the shoulder looks like a tempting means of escape, take a second to not only think about how your actions will affect those around you, but also think about the risks you’ll wind up having to face yourself. Hopefully, you’ll make the right decision to stay put, and discourage others from making any similar dangerous and illegal decisions.

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