What should you do if you Breakdown on the Motorway?

Breaking down can be an extremely stressful experience in itself, so breaking down on the motorway will undoubtedly increase those stress levels ten-fold. According to figures from the RAC, there are around 19548 breakdowns on the M1 alone each year. Add in all the other motorways in the country and its clear that motorway breakdowns are not an uncommon experience. The SMMT say 10% of all accidents on motorways are caused by mechanical failure, the other 90% are a result of human error. With such fast moving traffic in heavy volumes, a motorway breakdown can be a scary experience. If you have the knowledge beforehand, however, it can reduce the levels of stress and fear. Below we have listed our top tips to follow if you ever breakdown on the motorway.

Stopping the Car

The Highway Code states that where possible you should leave the motorway at the next available exit, or exit to the services. This may not always be possible, of course, in which case you should try to safely get the car across to the hard shoulder, position the vehicle as far to the left of the hard shoulder as you can with your wheels turned in to the left. If you can, try to stop near one of the emergency telephones which are placed about one mile apart across the length of the motorways. The worst case scenario would be that you cannot make it to an exit or the hard shoulder. In this case, you should put your hazard lights on. DO NOT attempt to place warning triangles onto the road as the traffic moves too quickly. Get out of the car only when you can get clear of the carriageway safely and make your way to the hard shoulder. Try to remain as calm as possible, as panicking will impede your judgement. We know this is easier said than done if your car stops dead on the motorway but take a few deep breaths whilst remaining vigilant.

Evacuating The Car

If you have to stop on the hard shoulder, you should exit the car via the doors on the left only. Ensure all passengers also do this. The Highway Code states that all animals should be left in the vehicle, in an emergency they can be removed, but must be kept under proper control i.e. on a lead or in a crate etc. Everyone must stand well clear of the carriageway, as far back as they can on the verge; it is imperative that children are kept under control also and remain well clear of the road.

Calling For Help

Walk to one of the emergency telephones, which should be used in preference to a mobile phone as they connect straight to the Highways Agency and the police, letting them know exactly where you are. These phones are free to use and signs along the hard shoulder will point you in the direction of the next one. Never try to cross the carriageway to use one on the other side of the road; phones are positioned one mile apart. Once on the phone, explain exactly what has happened, let them know if you are vulnerable i.e. Disabled, alone or elderly. While calling for help always face oncoming traffic.

Returning to your Vehicle

Once you have made the call, return and wait near your vehicle. DO NOT get back into it unless you feel at risk from another person. Again, ensure you are as far back from the carriageway as possible. If you have to get back into the car, do so via a left hand side door and lock the doors until you feel the danger has passed, then exit the vehicle again and wait well clear of the carriageway for help to arrive.

Breakdown Cover

At some points within the motorway network there may be free recovery offered, this is usually in particularly dangerous spots. This does not, however, cover the entire motorway network. If you have breakdown cover, call your provider after you have contacted the authorities. Breakdown companies should also be able to assist even if you do not have cover but will, of course, charge.

Re-joining the Traffic

If the car can be fixed at the roadside and you are able to re-join the flow of traffic, always build up speed on the hard shoulder first and then re-join the traffic when a safe, clear spot becomes available. Remember that other vehicles may be stopped on the hard shoulder so stay vigilant.


  • Try to stay calm.
  • Before leaving the vehicle, put the hazard lights on and side lights to make it visible. In poor visibility, also use fog lights.
  • Ensure all passengers leave the vehicle safely.
  • Wait clear of the vehicle and the carriageway.
  • Be aware of oncoming traffic at all times.

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