Riding on highway: Should I overtake using the shoulder lane

When the traffic is piled up behind slow-moving vehicles, I’d prefer to quickly overtake using the shoulder lane.

BHPian octavius recently shared this with other enthusiasts.

Hi all,

Cruising on the highway on a bike, would you recommend overtaking slow-moving traffic from the shoulder?

I've experienced that when two slow vehicles are occupying both the lanes next to each other, the traffic gets piled up behind. It makes me nervous being so close to the other vehicles and the cars trying to jostle each other to gain that extra inch.

In such cases, I would prefer to quickly overtake from the shoulder to get clear from the pile-up.

What does everyone else think?

Here's what BHPian Samba had to say about the matter:

Technically my copybook reply should be - No you shouldn't.

Then there is always a BUT.

You need to decide it on the spot. Take the way where you feel safer. When you take a calculated risk, make sure if anything goes wrong, you have an escape route ready.

Remember a few things before taking the left shoulder:

  • You may be in the blind spot of the car or truck whom you are overtaking from left.
  • If the car/truck swerves to its left, you should have enough space or braking distance to save yourself.
  • Check the road surface thoroughly for loose sand, gravel & stationary vehicles before the overtaking manoeuvre.
  • But never go off the road, as getting back on the road can be risky.

Here's what BHPian condor had to say about the matter:

If riding a bike on the highway, I would say - try to stay on the shoulder section even for riding, whenever there is traffic. Especially when there are only 2 lanes on each side. Especially if you are not doing similar speeds as the four-wheelers. Even otherwise, please be extra aware of the large vehicles and give yourself a lot of space.

Overtaking? Do check traffic and go ahead.

Here's what BHPian shancz had to say about the matter:

Unfortunately, since most of our traffic doesn't follow any rules whatsoever so it's prudent to exercise the safest option available even if that's the hard shoulder with due checks.

Would only like to add a few pointers in addition to the ones already mentioned.

  • Make sure that the entire distance till the part you intend to rejoin the road is visible. So don't try this when approaching the crest of an uphill climb, not to forget people are driving on the wrong side and at speed.
  • Make sure that the overtake will be easy so you have enough time and distance to either accelerate or more importantly brake before the vehicle in the front swerves in your path.
  • Make sure that the run-off area is also manageable in case you have to run off the road due to an emergency, especially near the end of the overtake.
  • Make the overtake quick, select the proper gear to be in the powerband before you start the overtake.
  • Create some buffer distance and rejoin the road as soon as you can since the hard shoulders are notorious for surprise potholes/craters due to erosion or human stupidity.
  • Remember that if overtaking a truck there is always a chance of them swerving/moving into the hard shoulder in case of a puncture/breakdown or to save some idiot who shoved their vehicles in the gap without thinking through.

Ditto and distinctly recall an instance somewhere between Pune and Kolhapur where a truck was trying to overtake another one for ages, blocking 2/3 lanes and whatever space was left was used by our famed "SUV/MUV" drivers to play zig-zag and getting dangerously close. Most two-wheelers were anyway pushed to the hard shoulder by these idiots and the only option to get out of this mess was to get on the hard shoulder, overtake the trucks, join back on the mid lane and accelerate away.

You're right, all it would take is one of them to brake at half their braking power to cause a massive pile-up and humans aren't GNCAP rated.

Here's what BHPian Simhi had to say about the matter:

Ideally, we should not use the shoulder for overtaking. Outside India, it is mainly used for emergencies. But in India, I feel, driving on the shoulder keeps the bike rider safe from high-speed traffic. Seen multiple accident videos wherein cars have brushed bikes riding on the left-most lane too. If you are using the shoulder to overtake better to honk and make the vehicles aware of your presence.

Here's what BHPian libranof1987 had to say about the matter:

Though we're all guilty of it, given how trucks/HCVs are notorious for blocking the right/middle lanes block most of our highways, overtaking or using the shoulder of the highway is incredibly risky.

  • Given a lack of service / by-lanes, trucks are often parked on the shoulder - without any advance warning in place.
  • Indians have a habit to park on the shoulder - be it to chat with another motorist they magically met on the highway or to take a leak, or to grab a smoke - again, without any warning.
  • The shoulder almost always has a lot of debris and loose sand/gravel.
  • The mere existence/width of the shoulder is not guaranteed - there can be illegal occupation - or no shoulder at all. The Pune - Mumbai highway has a lot of stretches where the main road is extended from four to six lanes but bridges - flyovers are still four-lane.

The list is actually endless.

The Pune - Mumbai EW is notorious for a LOT of accidents due to vehicles colliding on the shoulder - esp since truck breakdowns are common in the ghat section.

Here's what BHPian aargee had to say about the matter:

This happened in the year 2007, not in India, so leaving the judgement to mods whether this post is technically qualified as a violation of the law on Indian soil or not.

I was sedately cruising at 70 Mph, I think, on a Mustang on I75 at left-most lane during a cold month of November from Troy towards Detroit to meet my friends.

Got jolted all of a sudden because that is when I realized an 18-wheeler started swerving in my lane & most importantly that is also when I realized I was halfway overtaking the 18 wheeler. For a mili or microsecond, I was frozen not knowing what to do & those microseconds are still like a picture in my mind. A huge black 18-wheeler, I'm seated ultra-low in the car as if I'll scrape the road in few 100 meters, the radio that's garbling something, the road is curving towards right & I could only see the midsection of the 18-wheeler.

Thanks to Indian driving habits that kicked in! Swerved my car to the left, jumped onto the shoulder, floored the pedal, Mustang being Mustang, just whizzed off like a rocket. Got past the 18-wheeler & I immediately switched to the right & joined once again to the left-most lane. All this happened in a matter of seconds although I could vividly remember each & every move as if they're like frame per second of a video!

So to answer - Is driving on the shoulder wrong? Yes. Is overtaking from the shoulder on the highway wrong? Yes.

But had I not done that, TBhp wouldn't be missing this ID & this post today!

Here's what BHPian RedTerrano had to say about the matter:

Absolutely no.

I have done this mistake once. Unfortunately for me, it was at a T junction and the truck (Tata 407) turned left. I was thrown off my bike but was saved from any serious injury because I always wear a helmet on a bike and seat belts in a car.

Moral of the story: Rules exist for a reason. The reason is your safety and well being. Follow the rules.

Check out BHPian comments for more insights and information.

Seat belts save lives