Understanding A Motorway Breakdown – And Keeping Safe

An average of 250 people are killed each year on motorway hard shoulders, making understanding a motorway breakdown a potential life saver. So many incidents could be avoided if basic rules were followed.

While there are different reasons why drivers need to pull over, the subsequent environment can be fatal. The primary cause of such accidents is fatigue and loss of concentration. Tired drivers focus on stationary vehicles on the hard shoulder, imagining they are following that vehicle, until it’s too late and collision occurs.

You’re seven times more likely to be killed while sitting in your vehicle on the hard shoulder than you are when walking on the hard shoulder.

Reasons why people stop on the hard shoulder

  • Breakdown, overheating and broken windows (56%)
  • Tyre failure (17%)
  • Check or adjust mirrors, lights or wipers (14%)
  • Out of fuel (4%)
  • Fatigue (2%)
  • To report an accident (2%)
  • Illness (1%)
  • Other (4%)

Keeping safe

You can survive the hard shoulder and help reduce motorway death and injury by following these simple guidelines should your vehicle develop a problem.

Firstly, if at all possible leave the motorway at the next exit or pull into a service area. If you cannot do so, you should:

  • Use the hard shoulder to slow down before coming to a halt. Stop as far to the left as possible, with your wheels turned to the left.
  • Switch on hazard lights in daylight.
  • Try to stop near an emergency telephone, which are situated at approximately one mile intervals along the hard shoulder.
  • Leave the vehicle by the left-hand door and ensure your passengers do the same.
  • You MUST leave any animals in the vehicle.
  • Ensure that passengers keep away from the carriageway and hard shoulder, and that children are kept under control.
  • Find a safe place away from the vehicle whilst you wait for assistance, eg behind a barrier or at the top of the grass verge. If you feel at risk from another person, return to your vehicle and lock all the doors. Leave the vehicle as soon as the danger has passed.
  • Do not attempt even simple repairs.
  • Use the emergency SOS telephones, this gives free connection to the motorway police. Use of this phone gives a specific location and alerts the police to your circumstances. (An arrow on the top of the blue and white markers will direct you to the nearest telephone.)
  • Give full details to the police. If you are an Equine Rescue Services member, give the police your membership number and the emergency freephone number on your membership card, and the police will contact our Control Centre on your behalf. Also inform them if you are a vulnerable driver, such as a woman travelling alone.
  • If you have to use a mobile phone, first make sure you have identified your location from the marker post on the side of the hard shoulder before you contact our Control Centre.
  • Always give clear precise information including the registration number, colour of the vehicle and the nature of the fault. This will help us to get to you quicker and reduce the time you are on the side of the road.
  • If your vehicle is fixed at the roadside and you wish to rejoin the carriageway, increase your speed to that of the traffic before re-joining when there is a safe gap.