With vehicles thundering along at high speed on multiple lanes, a motorway is definitely not a nice place to have problems with your car.

But if you do break down or your car is damaged on the motorway, it’s important to know how to respond.

Here are the basics:

1. Pull over safely

Ideally, leave the motorway at the next exit or pull into a service area.

If this isn’t possible, pull on to the hard shoulder. This is the strip of road that is separated from the motorway’s driving lanes by a solid white line. Stop as far to the left as you can, with your wheels turned to the left.

Once you’ve stopped your car, put your hazard lights on, as well as other lights - such as rear fog lights or side lights - to increase your visibility, especially if it’s dark or foggy.

2. Don’t stay in your car

You want to get you and your passengers safely away from the passing traffic.

Put on high-vis vests if you have them. Everyone must get out of your car through the left-hand doors, meaning you stay clear of the other vehicles whizzing past. Step behind the barrier and move up the bank if you can. Always stand behind the car, so if it is struck by another vehicle you’ll stay out of harm.

3. Phone for help

Either use your mobile phone to call for breakdown help or walk to one of the emergency telephones along the hard shoulder. There’s one about every mile and, to find your closest one, simply follow the arrows on the posts at the back of the hard shoulder.

The benefit of these free phones is that they’re answered directly by an operator who will know exactly where you are on the motorway.

Always face the traffic while you speak on the phone. Give full details of your situation to the operator and let them know if you’re a vulnerable motorist such as disabled, older or travelling alone.

4. Return to your car, but stay outside it

After you’ve called for help, wait near your vehicle. Again, stay well away from the carriageway and hard shoulder.

What to do if your car breaks down on a smart motorway

Smart motorways use technology to monitor and manage the flow of traffic.

On these sections of motorway, the hard shoulder may be used as an extra lane. If that’s the case, and you can’t drive to an exit or service area, pull into one of the emergency areas. These are marked with blue signs with an orange SOS telephone symbol.

Call Highways England, either using the emergency telephone or by dialling 0300 123 5000 on your mobile.

If you can’t get to an emergency area but your vehicle can be driven, move it to the hard shoulder (where available) or as close as possible to the verge or slip road. 

What not to do

Whatever type of motorway you break down on, there are some things you shouldn’t do, even if it feels counterintuitive not to. 

  • Don’t put a warning triangle down on the road. While you would do this, when safe, on other road types, it’s simply too dangerous on motorways. 
  • Don’t attempt even simple repairs, such as a wheel change, as you will put yourself in danger. 
  • If you’re travelling with a pet, don’t let them out of the vehicle. They’re safer in the car, unless it’s a real emergency. If that’s the case, keep them under careful control on the verge. On a hot day, make sure you wind down the window for your pet


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For more tips and guidance on staying safe on the roads, read more on Solved.