Direct Line magazine

What to do when your car breaks down on the motorway

Updated on: 1 April 2021

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, Highways England 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 Highways England recommends if you find yourself in this situation.

Leave at the next junction or service area if you can

  • If you can’t do that, move left onto the hard shoulder or nearest emergency area (these are placed at regular intervals and are painted orange, with orange SOS signs).
  • And if you can’t do that, move into the left-hand lane and turn on your hazard warning lights. Don’t put out a warning triangle or try to repair your vehicle yourself.

If you can, get yourself and any passengers out of the vehicle

Get out using the passenger door, and get over the safety barrier on to the verge. Keep clear of your vehicle and moving traffic at all times. If you can’t get to an emergency phone, then call 999 immediately.

If your car suddenly stops and it isn’t safe to get out

Keep seatbelts on and turn on hazard lights. Then call 999 immediately.

Find out more about Green Flag breakdown cover.

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