Vehicle breakdowns are extremely common, particularly on main roads and motorways. With an estimated 25 vehicles breaking down on the motorway every hour, it’s important that drivers know how to act in an emergency situation so that they can stay safe and protect other road users. Breakdowns are especially inconvenient and expensive for fleets, as having vehicles off the road and out of action can be costly for businesses.
In this guide, we’ll highlight what to do if you breakdown on a motorway and provide some top tips to help prevent fleet vehicles from breaking down.
What to do if you breakdown on a motorway
If your vehicle breaks down on a motorway, it’s important to remain calm and try to exit at the next junction or motorway service area, if possible. However, if you’re unable to leave the motorway, then you need to ensure that you follow these safety guidelines:
Pull up onto the hard shoulder
- Make sure you stop as far to the left as you can, with the wheels turned to the left.
- If you can, aim to park as close to a motorway telephone box as possible.
Turn on your lights
- Turn on your hazard warning lights
- Keep your sidelights on if weather conditions are bad, or if it’s dark and foggy.
Wait in a safe place
- Generally, getting out of your vehicle is safer, using the doors facing away from moving traffic and waiting behind a safety barrier.
- Leave any animals in the vehicle as they can become a hazard if they get loose.
- Make yourself visible and put on a high-visibility jacket if you have one.
- Stand upstream of your vehicle and oncoming traffic, even if you’re behind the safety barrier.
Call for help
- If you have breakdown cover, then call the relevant provider and ask for recovery assistance.
- Call your family or friends to make them aware of the breakdown.
- If you don’t have access to a mobile phone, then walk to an emergency phone on your side of the carriageway if it’s safe to do so. This phone is free to use and will connect you directly to the police who will be able to help you.
- Provide the details of the vehicle you have broken down in, all passenger and pet information, details of your vehicle's fault, if known, and the recovery destination.
Research shows that one in ten accidents on motorways involve a vehicle on the hard shoulder, so drivers need to be vigilant and ensure that they follow these guidelines and get off the hard shoulder as soon as possible.
What to do if you can’t reach the hard shoulder or other safe space
If you’re unable to get your vehicle to the hard shoulder, then the situation can be even more dangerous. Under these circumstances, you should:
- Immediately switch on your sidelights and hazard warning lights.
- Stay inside your vehicle with your seatbelt fastened and wait for the police or the highways agency to assist you.
- Do not try to cross the motorway on foot.
What not to do during a motorway breakdown
- Do not put yourself in further danger by trying to use your warning triangle.
- Do not leave children in the vehicle.
- Do not try to change a wheel or attempt to fix a problem by yourself.
- Do not stand next to your vehicle while you wait and never stand between your vehicle and oncoming traffic.
- Do not stop your vehicle to assist another driver who has broken down. It’s safer to call 999 for assistance if you have access to a hands-free phone.
Once your vehicle has been fixed, you’ll need to safely re-join the motorway. You need to use your indicators, build up speed and look for a safe gap in the traffic, before pulling out of the hard shoulder. It’s important to also be aware that there may be other stationary vehicles on the hard shoulder or in the lay-by ahead of you, so you’ll need to manoeuvre your vehicle safely to avoid a collision.
How to prevent a breakdown
Breakdowns are usually avoidable and can be easily prevented by ensuring your fleet vehicles are properly maintained and checked before travelling long distances. This will help to save your business time and money, plus it ensures that drivers will be safe on the road. Last year, more than 41,500 people broke down on National Highways roads because of tyre issues which is over 20% of all breakdowns. Most of these breakdowns could have been avoided if the tyres had been examined regularly and properly inflated.
Drivers, therefore, have a vital role to play, as they’re responsible for checking that their vehicle is safe to drive and ensuring that it’s suitably prepared for long journeys. Here are some key tips that can help prevent a breakdown:
- Get your vehicle serviced regularly and ensure your MOT is up to date.
- Keep your fluids topped up, including the engine oil, coolant, and windscreen wash.
- Never ignore warning lights, strange noises, or any changes in how your vehicle feels when driving, especially the clutch cables. If you have concerns about your vehicle, then you should visit a mechanic who can carry out a safety check.
- Ensure that everything is switched off when you leave the vehicle, or you could risk getting a flat battery.
- Check that your tyres are properly inflated, have not been damaged and meet the minimum tread depth requirements.
- Ensure that there’s enough fuel for your journey and that the correct fuel for your vehicle is being used.
The responsibilities of a fleet manager
The role of a fleet manager is to ensure that drivers are safe and prepared for any challenges that they may face whilst on the road, such as a vehicle breakdown. Fleet managers should provide their drivers with thorough training and guidance on what they need to do in the event of a breakdown, as this could help to prevent a road collision and keep drivers safe. Businesses can benefit significantly from having breakdown cover, as vehicles will be recovered and fixed far quicker. This would usually be arranged by the fleet manager who will then be responsible for giving their drivers all the necessary contact details so that they’re prepared in case their vehicle breaks down.
Fleet managers are also responsible for ensuring that all vehicles are in good working condition and are safe to be driven. They should therefore keep a log of when vehicles are due in for a service and then follow up with their drivers to ensure that any maintenance issues have been reported and resolved. This will help to prevent breakdowns from happening, saving businesses time and money in the long run.
David JamesDavid has worked in the fuel card industry since 2008. His financial insights have been featured in various publications, such as The Sun, the Daily Express and The Yorkshire Times where he provides money-saving tips for motorists. David is passionate about charity work and regularly raises money through running events, including the London Marathon and the Leeds Abbey Dash.