UK MOTORWAY BREAKDOWN LAWS: Keep this information safe for emergency car breakdown procedures. Motorways can be a dangerous places to break down.
Here are some things you can do to remain safe before you telephone the emergency services. They are motorway breakdown rules 275 to 278.
There are two vital response procedures for vehicle breakdowns on motorways:
- Try to guide your car to the left side hard shoulder if it is safe to do so.
- Have the car wheels turned inwards (left side in the United Kingdom).
The UK Highway Code motorway rules recommend stopping near an emergency breakdown phone box. As a rule it is a safer place to stop even though it is not always possible.
Motorway Emergency Telephones are Free to Use
Emergency SOS phones are usually situated at one-mile intervals along the hard shoulder. If you cannot stop your car close to an emergency call box, try to walk to one on your side of the carriageway. Follow the arrows on the posts at the back of the hard shoulder.
Using Motorway Emergency Telephones
You do not have to pay to use Highway Code motorway emergency telephones if you break down. The phones connect you directly to a police rescue operator.
As a rule, it is safer to face the oncoming traffic while you speak to the emergency services. This procedure is the preferred method of contacting the Highways Agency or Motorway Police.
You should only use a mobile phone as a last resort. Give the Highways Agency (HA) as much information as possible about the incident. Let them know if you are a vulnerable motorist (travelling alone), senior, or disabled.
Return to the safety verge of the hard shoulder and stay close to your vehicle after making the emergency call. You and any passengers should always stay far away from the carriageways.
Note: If you feel at risk from another person, return to your vehicle by a left-hand door and lock all doors. Leave your vehicle again as soon as you feel this danger has passed.
Leaving a Vehicle after Breakdown on Motorway
What are the UK motorway breakdown rules for leaving a vehicle? You and any passengers should all exit the vehicle using the left-hand side doors. Try to move up the bank or wait behind the barrier instead.
Everyone (including children) should remain as far away as possible from the hard shoulder. This includes motorway nearside lanes and all carriageways.
Note: Wearing a reflective jacket is prudent. A motorway breakdown is one time when you should not use a warning triangle. Never try to place a warning triangle on the roadside. Keep small children under control and stay in a safe area.
You Must leave animals inside the vehicle or take them under control to the verge in an emergency. The Highway Code has specific rules about animals in the road.
Motorway Breakdown Repairs
Attempting to repair a motorway breakdown by yourself is very dangerous. Only trained and authorized mechanics should carry out any vehicle repairs on a motorway.
You should not even try to perform simple car repairs on a motorway by yourself.
Breaking Down On Motorway Lanes
Rule 275: What should you do if your vehicle develops a problem on a motorway? You should try to leave at the next exit or pull into a service area (see below).
Motorway Rules UK for Rejoining Carriageways
Rule 276: What is the procedure for rejoining a motorway carriageway after a vehicle breakdown incident. You should build up speed travelling along the hard shoulder and join the traffic through a safe gap.
Be aware that other traffic may also have broken down on motorway or stationary on the left side hard shoulder of the highway.
Hard Shoulder Rules
Note: The motorway hard shoulder is for emergencies only. You should not use it to make normal phone calls, stretching your legs, or for a toilet stop.
Rule 277: If your car breaks down on a lane of the motorway, try to move it to the hard shoulder. If you are unable to do so, you should:
- Switch on the vehicle hazard warning lights (use sidelights if it is dark or foggy weather).
- Leave the vehicle and get clear of the carriageway only when it is safe for you and the passengers to do so.
- Never attempt to place any warning signs on the motorway.
UK Motorway Rules for Disabled Drivers
Rule 278: If you have broken down on motorway and unable to follow the usual advice because of a disability, you should:
- Stay inside your vehicle until help arrives.
- Switch on the vehicle hazard warning lights.
- Display a ‘Help pennant‘ if you have it.
- Use your mobile phone to call the emergency services if possible.
Broken Down on Smart Motorway
What should you do if you break down on a smart motorway? Smart motorways have a hard shoulder converted into a fast-moving traffic lane. Follow these steps if your vehicle breaks down on a smart motorway:
- Try to use an emergency refuge area (ERA) or motorway service area.
- Use the SOS phone in an emergency refuge area to contact the Regional Control Centre.
- Call the Regional Control Centre when you stop and once more before you leave the area.
- Use the next junction or attempt to get the vehicle off the carriageway when it is safe.
- Turn on your hazard lights if you have to stop in a traffic lane.
- Safely exit the vehicle on the left-hand passenger side if you are in the left lane and wait behind the barrier.
- If you cannot exit safely, or you are in another lane, remain inside the vehicle with your seatbelt fastened (call 999).
Note: A different section explains smart motorway guidelines with information on Red X ‘lifesaver’ signs and the fine for breaking the rules.
Motorway Breakdowns: Go Left!
Highways England provides further guidance on what steps motorists should take when they encounter a problem with their vehicle – the message is to “go left”.
If you are unable to leave a motorway in an emergency situation, you should:
- Put on the left indicator and move into (either):
- An emergency area.
- Onto a hard shoulder.
- Motorway service area.
- Left-hand verge.
- A-road lay-by.
- Switch on the vehicle hazard warning lights (even during daylight hours). Use side lights if it is dark along with the fog lights if the visibility is poor.
- Pull over to the motorway hard shoulder or an emergency area where possible. These are spaced at regular intervals and marked by a visible orange road surface and blue signs (featuring an orange SOS telephone symbol).
Note: The short video presented by Highways England explains what drivers should do in an emergency on major A-roads and motorways.