The Shoulder of the Highway is a Dangerous Place

Author: Trent S. Kerns, Richmond, VA Personal Injury Attorney

Each year, a staggering number of people are killed on the shoulder of interstates. Approximately 12% of all interstate highway deaths are pedestrians in the roadway or on the shoulder. That's an average of about 610 people per year in the U.S.[1] To avoid becoming one of these statistics, you should follow the following safety guidelines.[2]

If there is not an emergency, don't stop on the shoulder.

It is incredibly dangerous, especially at night, because drivers are often fatigued and cannot see what is on the shoulder. Many times accidents happen when fatigued drivers see lights ahead and think that they belong to a car traveling in the right lane, only to find out too late that the lights are on a disabled vehicle on the shoulder.

If you have a flat tire, drive to the nearest exit if possible.

In the event of a flat tire, you may worry that you are doing substantial damage to your vehicle the longer you drive on it. Your first instinct will probably be to stop the car as quickly as possible, even if that means being on the median side of the roadway. Generally, the worst you can do is foul a wheel or rim. While this may cost you anywhere from $30 to $300 depending on your vehicle, it's better to risk the wheel damage than to risk your life on the wrong shoulder.

If you must stop on the shoulder for an emergency, pull as far off the road as possible.

Make sure to get all passengers out of the vehicle and get them away from the vehicle as quickly as possible. Do not stand around your vehicle. Climb over the guardrail if there happens to be one, and wait on the other side. If you are in an accident, pull off on the shoulder but get away from the roadway and vehicles if possible. Recently, two men were tragically killed in the Washington, D.C., area while standing on the shoulder of the interstate exchanging information when they were struck by a motorist.[3]

Stop on the right shoulder, not the left, if possible.

"It's traditionally safer to be on the right shoulder than on the left," according to Sgt. Tom Cunningham, a spokesperson with the Virginia State Police. "The key is to get out of the active lane of travel and to the shoulder as quickly and safely as possible."

Make your vehicle visible and warn other motorists that you are stopped.

Turn on your hazard lights. Virginia law (Va. Code § 46.2-1040) requires that you activate your hazard lights when you are stopped in the roadway or on the paved shoulder.[4] If you have flares, use them also.

When a vehicle is on the shoulder, move over to the next lane if possible.

Whenever possible, you should move over to the next lane if there is a vehicle on the shoulder. If a police or emergency vehicle is on the shoulder with flashing lights, Virginia law requires you to move over to the next lane if you can do so safely.[5] Police officers are especially at risk because of the frequency with which their job requires them to be on the shoulder of roadways. Studies show that one officer is killed almost every month in the United States in an accident on the shoulder of the interstate.

The shoulder of the highway can be a very dangerous place. Please drive responsibly and be aware of the dangers, so that we can all get where we are going safely.

About The Author: Trent Kerns is a Partner and President of the Allen Law Firm. For more than 30 years Trent has been advocating for clients who have been injured due to no fault of their own. He currently works out of the Richmond, VA Office. In his free time Trent enjoys traveling and spending time at the river.


[1] See http://www.aaafoundation.org/

[2] See http://www.safetyserve.com/ax/default.aspx?id=39.

[3] See .

[4] See Va. Code § 46.2-1040 at http://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title46.2/chapter10/section46.2-1040/.

[5] See Va. Code § 46.2-921.1 at http://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title46.2/chapter8/section46.2-921.1/.

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