There’s never a good time for your car to grind to a shuddering halt, but breaking down on a motorway can be particularly nerve-racking, especially if you’re travelling with your family. Knowing what to do if you break down on the motorway and following a few simple safety guidelines can help to avoid panic and keep you all out of harm’s way.
If you suspect your car may be about to give up the ghost mid-journey, your best course of action is to get off the motorway – at the nearest service station or junction – but this isn’t always possible.
If your car is on the brink of a total meltdown, pull onto the hard shoulder. Don’t forget to indicate. Ensure your wheels are turned left, so there’s no danger of your car rolling into traffic, and put on the hazard lights. Use sidelights as well if it’s dark. If it’s foggy, put the fog lights on.
So far, so good, but the hard shoulder can be a dangerous place, so you don’t want to hang around. Get yourself and your family out of the car via the passenger side as quickly as you can, and move behind the safety barrier. If you’re travelling with a pet, leave it in the car so it can’t get loose on the motorway.
If you can’t get onto the hard shoulder before your car comes to a halt, and it’s not safe to exit your vehicle, the Highway Code says you should:
- Stay in the car with your seatbelt on.
- Turn on your hazard warning lights to alert drivers behind you.
- Call emergency services (999) for assistance.
How to get help when you break down on a motorway
Knowing what to do if you break down on the motorway includes understanding that a motorway is no place for a DIY patch-up job on your car. According to the Highway Code, attempting even simple vehicle repairs on a motorway is fraught with danger, and so is placing a warning triangle on a motorway.
As you and your family wait in a safe place beside the motorway after a breakdown, call for help on your mobile phone. If you’re covered by a vehicle assistance and roadside recovery plan, call your service provider (always have their number to hand when travelling).
Even if you don’t have this type of cover, you can still get help from a breakdown service, so you might want to keep a few numbers handy. According to the money.co.uk financial products price comparison platform, many roadside assistance providers offer instant cover so you can take out a policy and get help immediately. You may be charged a one-off fee on top of the cost of signing up.
Alternatively, call Highways England – formerly the Highways Agency – who can get a local garage to recover your vehicle, but this may come at a hefty cost.
If you don’t have access to a mobile phone – or you can’t get reception or the battery has drained – you’ll need to walk along the hard shoulder (facing oncoming traffic) to an emergency phone. These phones are located at one-mile intervals in bright orange boxes. They’re free to use and connect directly to the police or a government highways agency.
After making your call, return to your vehicle and wait, well away from the carriageway and hard shoulder.
What should I do If I break down on a smart motorway?
If your vehicle begins to experience difficulties on a smart motorway with no hard shoulder, exit as soon as possible. If you can’t do this, try to get to an emergency refuge area (ERA). These are marked with blue signs and an orange SOS phone symbol.
- I can’t make it to an emergency refuge area. Try to move onto the roadside if there is no safety barrier.
- My car has come to a halt in the nearside lane. Leave the vehicle by a passenger-side door if it’s safe to do so. Wait for help behind the safety barrier, if there is one.
- I can’t move over to the nearside lane. Stay in the car with your seatbelt on, use your hazard lights, and call 999 on your mobile phone.
- I can leave my car safely. Contact Highways England via an emergency phone at an emergency refuge area.
Crucial safety steps after a motorway breakdown
Knowing what to do if you break down on a motorway or stretch of smart motorway can help to ensure the safety of yourself and your family, so it’s critical to remember the need to:
- Stay calm.
- Use the hard shoulder (if there is one).
- Exit the vehicle on the left, making sure your passengers do the same.
- Leave animals in the vehicle.
- Use your hazard warning lights.
- Summon help on your mobile or one of the emergency phones on the hard shoulder.
- Wait somewhere safe.