When cars or vans breakdown, it’s never usually the most appropriate place for it to happen. First of all think safety first and pull in somewhere safe, away from traffic. This might mean you cause more damage to your vehicle but if it saves you being in an accident this is one piece of advice which could save your life. Of course your car might not be able to be moved to a safe position, so in this instance stay in your vehicle if it’s unsafe to exit and call the police if you are blocking traffic or in danger of causing an accident. They can give you specific advice on what to do next.
Motorway hard shoulders and main roads
On a motorway the hard shoulder is for emergencies only. If your car cannot travel any further to the next exit then your only option is to stop on the hard shoulder. It is essential that you park your vehicle as close to the grass of the verge as possible, furthest away from the road otherwise you could cause an accident if a lorry or vehicle strays into the hard shoulder. Once your vehicle is stationary, out your hazard warning lights on, check all of your mirrors and wait until the traffic is clear to be safe and exit your vehicle quickly and safely, preferably via the left hand side door (if you’re in the UK). Ensure any passengers are escorted out of the vehicle and that you all stay as far away from the road as possible. If it’s possible on the motorway, stand way back from the barriers and up high on the verge to be as safe as possible. Don’t bother taking anything out of the car, even animals if you can help it. Your safety is paramount.
Our best advice is not to attempt the repair yourself without breakdown assistance. Call up your breakdown company and wait for the vehicle. They can park their van further behind your broken down vehicle to act as a buffer giving you time to escape if an accident happens. It’s always handy keeping a warm rug and umbrella in the boot of your car in case of emergencies as you could be waiting in the cold and rain for some time for the breakdown service to arrive. Some reflective jackets are also recommended if the verge is not lit so others can see you.
A hard shoulder is NOT a place to stop if you or a passenger:
- needs the toilet – go to the nearest services, even if you can’t wait it’s better to be safe away from the road.
- needs to change route on your sat nav or check a map – if a passenger can do it for you whilst driving then this is better, otherwise come off the motorway and come to a stop for a few minutes.
- needs to answer a mobile phone call – again, the services is a better place, or invest in a suitable hands-free call system which is legal.
Calling for help
When you are in a safe place use your mobile phone to call for a rescue vehicle from your breakdown service. You should be able to give them the road and on a motorway a reference of your position using the marker posts on the sides of the road. The breakdown service will give you an indication of the time you may have to wait and should ask you what the problem is with your vehicle.
If you don’t have a phone on a motorway you can walk to an emergency telephone box on the side of the motorway carriageway – do not try and cross the carriageway! Follow the arrows on the posts at the back of the hard shoulder which indicate the nearest phone to your location. The phone call is free and you’ll be connected to either the police or Highways Agency who can help. If you aren’t on a motorway, try and find a public telephone box or walk to the nearest fuel station or public house who can help.
Rejoining the road
If your vehicle can get back on to the road safely, then return to your vehicle when it’s clear and safe on the road. On a motorway, build up speed gradually on the hard shoulder and then watch for a safe gap in the traffic before rejoining the carriageway. Off the motorway, keep checking traffic for a gap and return to the road safely, making sure you’re indicators are on. On corners, this can be very tricky so take care as traffic won’t know you are there.