A soft shoulder sign means that the lane or shoulder running along the side of the road is made of gravel, packed dirt or a combination of both, unlike the material used for the main road, which may be concrete or asphalt. Soft shoulder signs serve to warn motorists that the road is unstable and not suitable for driving.
It dangerous, not to mention illegal to drive on soft shoulders or any type of shoulder for that matter. Soft shoulder lanes should, therefore, only be used for emergency situations. Motorists should be aware that their wheels might lose some traction when moving onto a soft shoulder lane, whether for emergency purposes or were just forced off the road.
Braking will also present some danger, especially in instances when the driver is forced to brake with two wheels on the concrete road and two wheels on the soft shoulder as this action may cause the vehicle to skid due to unequal traction. In other instances, soft shoulders are often lower than the surface of the road, which will also present some steering difficulties.
Shoulders are often added along the sides of well-traveled roads to be used emergency stopping lanes for motorists and for traffic management officers. In most countries, shoulders are located on the right side of the road and on the left for right hand driving countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia and Japan. Wider roads such as freeways in the United States also have shoulders on both sides of each directional lane.