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Personal Safety Motorway Breakdowns

The hard shoulder on Motorways can be dangerous places and are strictly for emergency use only. Research has shown that one in ten accidents on a motorway involve a vehicle on the hard shoulder. You are much safer waiting for rescue out of your car behind the barrier and if possible sit or stand on the embankment or adjoining land. 

You must only stop on the hard shoulder if a genuine emergency occurs, for example, a blow out.  If possible try to coax your car to a Motorway service area or a place of safety off the motorway. If you are forced to stop on the hard shoulder, do not try to change a wheel or fix a problem by yourself, you must seek professional help and follow these basic guidelines.


  • If possible try to manoeuvre the car on to the hard shoulder stopping as near to the grass verge as practical with the wheels turned in. If your particular emergency allows, park as close to a motorway telephone box as possible.
  • Apply your handbrake and switch on your side and hazard warning lights.
  • Slide across to the front passenger seat and jot down the motorway blue and white directional marker post number noting the direction of the arrow pointer.
  • Arrows on the motorway marker posts show in which direction the nearest phone is, they are set 100m apart.
  • Assess to see if it is safe to get out of the car.
  • Make sure you have your handbag or wallet containing your breakdown recovery membership.
  • Regardless of age; do not leave children in the car.
  • Leave any animals in the car as they can be a major hazard to traffic if they get loose. Only take animals out of your car if it is unsafe to leave them and then only if you can secure them behind the barrier or on the embankment or on bordering land.
  • If you have one, put on your high visibility waistcoat and exit the vehicle on the passenger side allowing you to avoid the high-speed passing traffic which can create dangerous wind suction and drag.
  • Working on the hard shoulder is for professionals only, so do not put yourself in further danger by trying to place your warning triangle.
  • Always walk along the grass edge of the hard shoulder to and from the nearest telephone.
  • It is always best to use the motorway emergency telephones rather than calling your break down recovery service direct from your mobile. This will alert the Police and the Highways Agency to the fact there is a woman stranded alone in her car.
  • Although your use of the motorway emergency phone should automatically tell the operator where you are. The operator may still ask for details such as which motorway, in which direction you are travelling and what motorway junction is nearest to you.
  • If you can make a note of the driver location motorway sign details this will help the police control room pinpoint exactly where you have broken down. The operator will then transfer you to your recovery service who will normally give lone females priority. Your recovery service are likely to ask for your membership details and an idea of what is wrong with your car, they may also ask you to confirm where you have broken down.
  • Do not wait next to the emergency telephone box, return to your car and move behind the safety barrier on to the bordering land and up the embankment if possible but stay close to your car.
  • At this point you can use your mobile phone to tell family or friends of your predicament.
  • If you feel uneasy by a Good Samaritan approaching you, return to your car and enter by the passenger door and remain in your car with the doors locked.
  • If the stranger gestures or speaks to you, do not get out of your car or unlock your doors. Unwind your window just enough to assure him that help is on the way and then rewind your window staying in your car until you feel safe. When the perceived danger has gone leave your car by the same route and return to the safety of the embankment to await rescue.
  • It is common for passing Police cars or the Highways Agency to check on cars that have broken down. If you doubt their authenticity for any reason, you're within your rights to ask the police officer or traffic officer for his or her I.D especially if he or she is in an unmarked police car. (If in doubt lock them out and call 999).
  • When help does arrive always ask the driver for his identification which he should be more than willing to supply. (If in doubt lock him out and call 999).
  • If possible telephone your family or friends to tell them who the breakdown recovery company is with an estimated time of repair if known. (Sometimes the major breakdown recovery services use contractors).
  • If a breakdown cannot be fixed by the roadside your breakdown recovery service may have to arrange for a specially equipped vehicle to either tow or load your car on to a low-loader for transportation to your home or garage. This will involve a further delay and you should again follow the procedures outlined above for waiting safely for rescue. (Don't forget to update your family and friends).
  • If the breakdown service has managed to repair your car, you must leave the hard shoulder by driving along it until you have reached a speed that will not hinder the traffic already using the motorway. Indicate right and wait for a gap in the flow of traffic before safely rejoining the carriageway.
  • Remember as you drive along the hard shoulder look out for other cars that may have broken down or obstacles from previous breakdowns or accidents.
  • Against our expressed advice: Should you decide to accept help from a male stranger. Firstly, stay in your locked car and wind down your window slightly and politely ask his name and take a note of his vehicles registration number, make, model and colour. Tell him that help is on already on route, this way, if he is a potential attacker and he believes help may turn up at any moment, it may well deter him. If he is still willing to help you, stay in your locked car and tell him that you are going to call a family member or friend (or the person on route) to tell them who is helping you. If he is a genuine person he will have no objection to your phone call. (If in doubt lock him out and call 999).
  • No matter how upstanding or friendly the Good Samaritan seems, never accept a lift from a man you don't know.

Please Note! Although Roaddriver accepts that not all men are rapists or murderers, we strongly advise you to decline all offers of help from strangers and to await assistance from your Breakdown Recovery Service, Police, Highways Agency or family member. It is a sad indictment of our times but it is better to be safe than sorry.

If your car stops in a lane on the motorway

  • If you fail or are unable to coax your car on to the hard shoulder, immediately switch your sidelights and hazard warning lights on. Make sure you keep your seat belt firmly fastened. Under these circumstances it is normally much safer to stay put inside your car and await the police or the highways agency.
  • Trying to cross a motorway by foot is extremely dangerous and is not advisable but if you do decide to exit your car, if you have one, put on your high visibility vest and wait inside your car until it is totally safe to exit unimpeded by the fast-flowing traffic.
  • Never try on the carriageway to change a wheel, fix the car or push the car off the motorway on to the hard shoulder. If you have a mobile phone call 999 for assistance, if you have made it by foot to the hard shoulder use the emergency telephone box.
  • If your car is stranded in the outside lane (The lane next to the central barrier) it is safest to stay in your vehicle; But if you must exit put on your high visibility vest if you have one and wait inside your car until it is totally safe to exit. Step inside the central reservation barrier if possible and wait for the Police or the Highways agency to arrive. Do not attempt to place a warning triangle behind your car.
  • If you have a problem or a disability that prevents you from leaving your car. Make sure you have switched on your sidelights and hazard warning lights. Keep your seat belt firmly fastened. Call 999 if you have a mobile phone, if not wait for rescue by the police or the highways agency.

Women Driving Alone - Personal Safety Motorway Breakdowns.

Tips and Advice - Article No.6 RoadDriver 2010

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