How to keep Safe During a Motorway Breakdown

As we all know, breaking down is very stressful, but an important part of breaking down in your car is ensuring that you and your passengers are kept safe and out of harm’s way until the proper help such as a recovery company nearby, reach you.

During the holiday season last year, Highways England data shows more than 48,500 motorway breakdowns took place.


Reasons for breaking down on the motorway

The motorway is one of the most common places that motorists’ breakdown; this can be for many reasons, such as:

Commuting long distances can cause parts to deteriorate quicker than usual, for instance. Motorways allow faster and more constant speeds to be travelled at which some vehicles may not be used to, in turn causing minor faults such as overheating that will cause engine failures.

Failure to keep your car well maintained. Maintenance of your vehicle is important to avoid breakdowns. It is important specially in long journeys to check your car.

Run out of fuel.

Flat tire.

Road Traffic Accident


What to do during a motorway breakdown

When everything is moving fast on a motorway, it is important to react quickly but safe.

On a motorway with a hard shoulder, you should:

Go left

Move left onto a hard shoulder, left-hand verge.

Leave space so that you can get out of your vehicle from the side furthest from traffic.

Try to stop near an emergency telephone; these are spaced at approximately one-mile intervals along motorway hard shoulders.

Make sure that your front wheels are turned inwards when the car is stationary.


Get safe and away from moving traffic

Switch your hazard lights on, even during the day. If it’s dark, use side lights and in poor visibility use fog lights.

If it’s safe, and you can get out with any passengers, exit your vehicle via the left-hand door and get behind a safety barrier where there is one. They offer extra protection.

Gather any items you may need, such as mobile phone, coat, hi-vis clothing, food, drink and medication. Take care if getting items from the boot.

It’s safer to leave pets in your vehicle, even if you think they may become upset. This is because your pet may become scared, run into the traffic and cause a collision. Only remove pets in an emergency. Keep them under proper control on the verge and behind the safety barrier, if there is one.

Keep well away from your vehicle and moving traffic, even if it’s raining, cold or dark.

If you’re on a verge, be aware of any unseen hazards such as uneven ground or debris.


Get roadside help

Once you are safe, use your mobile phone to get roadside assistance. Roadside assistance can be obtained from one of the major roadside assistance provides such as AA or RAC if you are a member, or you can search for a local or passing by tow truck.

If for any reason you haven’t got a mobile phone, use the free emergency telephone, which connects directly to one of Highways England regional operations centres and identifies your location. Take care while getting to and from an emergency phone.

After your call,  Highways England will contact a breakdown provider. 


What you shouldn’t do if you break down on a motorway:

Most importantly, don’t put yourself in danger by attempting even simple repairs.

Don’t try to use a warning triangle – it’s not safe on a motorway.

Stay away from your car and oncoming traffic


What to do if you break down on a smart motorway or a motorway without hard shoulder?

What is a smart motorway?

A smart motorway is a newish concept where traffic management methods are used to increase capacity and reduce congestion in particularly busy areas, such as using the hard shoulder as a running lane and using variable speed limits to control the flow of traffic.

 If you break down on a smart motorway or a motorway without a hard shoulder you should follow the same principles as breaking down on a motorway with a hard shoulder for example:

Move as far to the left-hand side as possible or, if your car is drivable, stop to the nearest emergency refuge area (ERA) identified by the blue signs.

Switch your hazard warning lights

Call for the nearest breakdown service

While much of the above is common sense to many, it is surprising how different people react in times of stress and pressure. The safety of the driver and the vehicle occupants is paramount in these situations.


How to find the nearest recovery services?

If you have no breakdown cover or the response of the national rescue companies is too long you can use the car recovery near me website where you will find the nearest tow truck to in real time by following these simple steps:

Visit the home page

Allow the website to track your location

Click search

On the map, click on the tow truck nearest to you

On the pop-up window, tap the number to talk direct to the recovery professional.



How to re-join the motorway

If your vehicle is drivable for example in cases of needing road side assistance for a flat tire or the recovery vehicle supplied you with petrol, you will need to carefully rejoin the motorway.

If you’re on the hard shoulder you will have to accelerate on the hard shoulder to match the speed of the traffic before you rejoin the carriageway and watch for a safe gap in the traffic.

Look well ahead on the hard shoulder to make sure  that other vehicles are not stationary.