When Is It Legal to Drive on the Shoulder in Texas?

September 9th, 2021 by Tad Nelson in DWI, Traffic Offenses, Understanding Texas Law

Have you ever become frustrated with the flow of traffic and decided to try and “ride the shoulder” of the road? In most cases, this is a traffic violation. The Texas Transportation Code specifies only seven cases where driving on an “improved shoulder” to the right of the main road is legal:

  1. To stop, stand, or park;
  2. To accelerate before entering the main traveled lane of traffic;
  3. To decelerate before making a right turn;
  4. To pass another vehicle that is slowing, stopped, disabled, or preparing to make a left turn on the main part of the roadway;
  5. To allow another vehicle traveling faster to pass;
  6. To follow directions given by an official traffic-control device; or
  7. To avoid a collision.

Even when driving on an improved shoulder falls within one of these legitimate uses, the driver must still do so only when it is necessary and safe. In other words, speeding down the shoulder to pass other vehicles that are traveling at normal speed is not okay. If a police officer sees you, it could lead to a traffic ticket.

Questionable Driving Leads to DWI Arrest, License Suspension

In some cases, it can lead to even more serious consequences. Take this recent case from Beaumont, Texas Department of Public Safety v. Hargroder. This was actually a drunk driving case. But like most such cases, it began with a traffic stop. Here, a state trooper said he observed a man named Hargroder driving faster than the posted speed limit on an improved shoulder. The subsequent traffic stop led the trooper to believe Hargroder was driving while intoxicated. The trooper then arrested Hargroder.

The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) suspended Hargroder’s driver’s license following his DWI arrest. Hargroder challenged the suspension, which made its way through a DPS administrative law judge and a district court before ultimately ending up before the Texas Ninth District Court of Appeals. In the end, the appellate court upheld the suspension.

The main legal issue was whether the trooper had “reasonable suspicion” to initiate the traffic stop in the first place. That is to say, did the trooper have a valid reason to believe that Hargroder was illegally operating his vehicle on an improved shoulder? The administrative law judge (ALD) believed he did. The district court judge did not. The appellate court said the district judge should have deferred to the ALJ so long as there was a “reasonable basis” for their decision.

Hargroder argued that the mere fact a driver passes a slow driver on the shoulder is insufficient evidence of a traffic violation. The Ninth District agreed but added the trooper also said he observed Hargroder speeding. That alone would justify the traffic stop, even if Hargroder had a legitimate reason for traveling on the shoulder.

Speak with a Houston Traffic Ticket Lawyer Today

Even when drunk driving is not an issue, a traffic violation alone can add points to your license and force you to take time to fight a questionable ticket. If you need legal advice or representation from an experienced Galveston traffic violations attorney, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today.

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