What to do if you break down on the motorway

Motorways are our safest roads, but if you break down and are forced to stop on the hard shoulder they suddenly become a very dangerous place. You’ve only got to leave your car sticking slightly into the inside lane and it’ll be clipped by an artic, with all sorts of chaos guaranteed to result.

To make sure you and your car don’t become another statistic, here’s what to do when you break down on a motorway: 

As soon as you’ve stopped – as far to the left as possible – get everybody out of the car and stand well off the carriageway
  • Pull onto the hard shoulder safely, leave your car in gear and apply the handbrake.
  • Park as far to the left as possible.
  • Put on your hazard lights and leave your sidelights on if visibility is poor.
  • Ensure all occupants, including yourself, leave via the passenger side, to avoid being dusted by an artic. Stand well back from the carriageway, on the grass verge.
  • Handy with a spanner? Forget it. Even attempting to change a tyre is out of the question, it’s far too dangerous!
  • Walk to an orange emergency phone; they’re a mile apart. Markers every 100 yards indicate the direction to the nearest phone. Using one of these is better than a mobile as it allows the operator to accurately pinpoint your position.
  • Wait until help arrives; remain well back from the carriageway.

Managed motorways

In a bid to increase road space, the government has opted to ‘widen’ motorways on the cheap by nicking the hard shoulder and turning it into a regular lane when things are busy.

Called managed motorways, these have emergency refuges every so often instead of a continuous hard shoulder.

If you break down on one of these when the hard shoulder is open to all traffic, try to get to one of the refuges if you can. If you can’t, switch on your hazard lights as soon as you know there’s a problem and slow down as gradually as you can in the inside lane (what would normally be the hard shoulder). This should help prevent anybody running into the back of you.

As soon as you’ve stopped – as far to the left as possible – get everybody out of the car and stand well off the carriageway. Managed motorways have lots of CCTV cameras and are patrolled by Highways Agency officers, who will come to your aid as quickly as possible.

Don’t stop unless you have to

The hard shoulder is only for emergencies; accidents on them typically claim the lives of 10-12 people each year, with a further 200 people injured. Use the next service station, instead of the hard shoulder, for: 

  • Checking your directions.

  • Taking a leak.

  • Answering a phone call.

  • Exercising your dog, cat or pet chinchilla.

  • Having a cup of tea.

  • Taking a power nap.

  • Having a stretch, even if you’ve fallen behind with your pilates.


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