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What to do if you breakdown on the motorway

Sometimes breakdowns can’t be avoided. Here’s what to do if you breakdown on a motorway.

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by Louise Thomas

When driving along the motorway, every driver feels sorry for anyone on the side of the road that have broken down. And most of all, you hope it doesn’t happen for you. But unfortunately, you may well have a breakdown on the motorway at some point in your life, so it’s best to be prepared.  

Preparing for a long journey 

To avoid a motorway breakdown, make sure your car is ready for a long journey. The first thing to do is get some breakdown cover. Your best bet is to check out different options for breakdown cover on a comparison website and get it sorted. This goes for any journey, but especially when you’re travelling longer distances.  

Check your tyres and fluid levels before leaving. Most importantly make sure you have enough fuel for the journey. If your fuel warning light comes on, fill up at the nearest services. We know fuel is expensive on the motorway, but it’s worth it to avoid breaking down on the motorway, so just fill up enough to get you to your destination.  

We’ve got a whole article dedicated to car maintenance checks to help you get prepared for a long journey.

What to do if you breakdown on the motorway 

There’s never a good time to breakdown, but breaking down on the motorway can be really scary. Make sure you know what to do:  

  1. If you notice your car failing, try and drive carefully to the next junction or service station.  
  2. If that isn’t possible, indicate left and pull onto the hard shoulder.  
  3. Make sure your wheels are turned left, away from the road in case the car rolls. 
  4. Turn on your hazard lights. 
  5. If it’s dark or foggy, turn on your side lights too. 
  6. The hard shoulder is a dangerous place to be, so you don’t want to be hanging around. Get out of the car through the left-hand doors as quickly as possible.  
  7. If you’re travelling with a pet, it’s better to leave them inside the car. We know it’s hard to leave your furry friends behind, but it’s safer for them and for other road users.  

Motorway SOS phones 

Once you’re safely out of your vehicle and away from the hard shoulder, it’s time to call your breakdown recovery service. Mobile signal can be patchy in some parts of the UK. If you can’t use your phone, walk to the nearest emergency telephone which connects directly to the Highways Agency or police. 

What’s the distance between emergency phones on the motorway? 

SOS phones are located at one-mile intervals and signalled along the back of the hard shoulder. Always walk facing the oncoming traffic and face the same way while on the phone. It’s best to wait behind the crash barrier until help arrives.  

Who do you call if you breakdown on the motorway?  

  • If you’re in a safe space off the motorway and behind the barrier, call your breakdown cover.  
  • If you don’t have breakdown cover, you could use google maps to find the nearest local garage and give them a call.  
  • If you breakdown in a motorway lane, call 999.  
  • If you call through a motorway emergency phone, you’ll be connected to the Highways Agency or the police. 

Can you get breakdown cover if you’ve already broken down?  

If you don’t have breakdown cover, you can call up and sort out breakdown cover on the spot. You’ll be charged an additional fee but once you’re set up you’ll be helped out like any other customer.  

What should you do if you breakdown in the fast lane?  

Worst case scenario, you breakdown on the motorway in the middle or outside lane and can’t get to the hard shoulder. In this case, keep your seatbelts on, turn on hazard lights and call 999 immediately.  

What to do if you breakdown on a smart motorway?  

On smart motorways, the hard shoulder is converted into another lane to help ease traffic flow. So where do you go if you breakdown? 

 If you can, get to an emergency area. Smart motorways have laybys called Emergency Refuge Areas (ERAs), every 1.5 miles. According to Highways England, if drivers are moving at 60mph (97km/h), they should be able to reach a refuge every 75 seconds on average.  

They’re marked with large blue signs and have orange SOS telephones. Once you’re in the ERA, turn on your hazard lights and leave the car through the left-hand side doors.  

Use the SOS phones to contact the Highways Agency and they’ll tell you what you need to do. If your car is repaired and you can re-join the motorway, remember to contact the Highways Agency and let them know you’re going to leave. They’ll then mark the left lane with a red X, closing the lane so you can re-join the motorway safely. 

If you breakdown in the middle of two ERAs, try and head to the left lane and move onto the verge if there’s no barrier. Turn on your hazard lights and exit through the left-hand doors. 

Contact the Highways Agency so they can close the lane. If you can’t exit your vehicle or reach the left-hand lane, stay in your car with your seatbelt on, switch on your hazard light and call 999. 

What not to do if you breakdown on the motorway 

  • It’s advised that you don’t put out your warning triangle on the hard shoulders because it’s not safe. Your hazard lights will do the trick. 
  • Avoid standing downstream of your car and ongoing traffic. Get behind the barrier and walk upstream. 
  • Even if it’s just a small change, don’t try and do repairs while your car is broken down on the motorway. It’s not safe people. Wait for your breakdown recovery to arrive.  
  • Don’t stand next to or near your car…get yourself to safety.  

How to merge back onto the motorway from the hard shoulder?  

Once your car is all sorted and you know it’s safe to drive, use the hard shoulder to build up speed. Indicate and move into the motorway lane once it’s safe to do so.  


Take a break. Share the driving.

Take a break. Share the driving.

When you’re on a long road trip, taking regular breaks is really important. It’s a good idea to plan these in advance so the driver never gets too tired. 

You could even share the driving to make sure all drivers get a proper break. Sharing the driving is easier than ever thanks to temporary car insurance. Insure yourself on a friend or family member’s car from 1hr to 30 days. 

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Louise Thomas

Hi I'm Louise and I'm a Marketing Executive at Veygo. I've been driving for nearly two years after several "practice" tests! I love the freedom that comes with finally having a driving licence. Road trips with my friends are the best - especially when we've got an awesome playlist going! (check out our Spotify for road trip playlists!)

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