You’ve broken down on a motorway, now what?

By Alicia Jarvis
Updated on July 28, 2021


You stop on the hard shoulder of a motorway and use the emergency telephone. Where’s the best place to wait for help to arrive?

Well away from the carriageway – When you’re on the hard shoulder, you’re vulnerable to injury from oncoming traffic. The safest spot to wait is away from the road but close enough to observe the emergency vehicles arrive.


Breakdowns on motorways

According to a Highways England (formerly the Highways Agency) report, 11,200 people ran out of gas on the English road network between April 2010 and September 2011. Before you get on a highway, be sure you have enough fuel to get to your destination.

If you see that you’re running low on gas, pull into the nearest service station rather than risk driving on an empty tank, which can lead to dirt and sediment blocking your fuel filter or injectors.

If you know you’ll need to fill up more than once on your trip, plan ahead by checking at the distances between gas stations along your route. This information should be available online via station finder and route planner tools. Most satellite navigation (sat-nav) systems will include service stations on their maps.

If you become stuck on the highway, try to get to the next exit or service facility. If you are unable to do so, manoeuvre your vehicle as safely as possible onto the hard shoulder and as far to the left as practicable, away from traffic. When you come to a complete stop, turn your wheels to the left so that if you are hit from behind, your vehicle is not pushed onto the main highway.


Once you’ve stopped after breaking down on a motorway.

  • Turn on your warning lights to alert other cars that you have broken down.
  • In poor visibility, turn on your sidelights, and don’t open the offside doors at night.
  • Keep animals inside and educate your passengers about the dangers of passing vehicles.
  • Leave the vehicle with your passengers at the nearside door, away from traffic. Except for the main door, all doors should be locked. 
  • Call the emergency services. (Inform them if you are a vulnerable driver, such as a disabled or elderly person, or if you are travelling alone or with young children.) Rather than a cell phone, utilise a roadside emergency phone, which will pinpoint your location.


When broken down on a motorway, you should never:

  • Even simple fixes on the highway should not be attempted.
  • Put any type of warning device on the highway or hard shoulder.