Direct Line magazine

What to do when your car breaks down on the motorway

Updated on: 26 August 2022

An SOS phone on the side of a motorway.

With cars travelling at high speeds, breaking down on a motorway is a dangerous situation to be in. That’s why it’s really important you follow advice designed to keep you and your passengers safe.

Reducing the chance of motorway problems

In order to help reduce the risk of a breakdown or running into trouble on a motorway, National Highways recommends:

  • Staying within the speed limit
  • Keeping left unless you’re overtaking
  • Checking that your vehicle is safe and roadworthy before you travel
  • Making sure you have enough fuel for your journey
  • Planning for breaks
  • Not driving when you’re tired

It’s also recommended that you keep the following items in your car:

  • Warm clothes
  • Hi-vis jacket
  • A torch
  • An atlas or electronic map
  • Breakdown cover details

And if you’re going on a long journey you should also include:

  • Any medication you need
  • A charged mobile phone
  • Food and water

What to do if you break down

No amount of car maintenance or preparation can guarantee you won’t run into a problem on the motorway, so here’s what National Highways recommends if you find yourself in this situation.

If you get into trouble on a motorway - go left

It's important to try and stay calm and if possible exit at the next junction or motorway service area. If that’s not possible:

  1. Put your left indicators on.
  2. Move into the left lane.
  3. Enter the next emergency area, or hard shoulder.
  4. Put your hazard lights on.
  5. Get behind a safety barrier where there is one - keep well away from moving traffic.
  6. Call National Highways on 0300 123 5000, then a breakdown provider for help.

If you're unable to exit your vehicle and get to a safe place, have stopped in a live traffic lane or feel your life is in danger: 

  • Stay in your vehicle with your seatbelts and hazard lights on.
  • Call 999 immediately.

Important safety advice to remember

  1. Don't stop your vehicle to assist another vehicle that has broken down or been involved in a collision. You may feel you want to help, but it is safer to call National Highways on 0300 123 5000 or 999 for assistance.
  2. Only use an emergency area or hard shoulder in an emergency.
  3. Do not put out a warning triangle on a motorway or attempt any repairs on your vehicle because passing traffic may collide with your vehicle.
  4. Keep well away from moving traffic and your own vehicle. Get behind a safety barrier where possible, and where it is safe to do so.
  5. If you’re on a verge, be aware of any unseen hazards such as uneven ground or debris.

National Highways also has guidance for specific situations, such as breaking down on a motorway without a hard shoulder. 

Find out more about Green Flag breakdown cover.

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