If you break down

Where to stop and what to do

Get your vehicle off the road if possible and warn other traffic by using your hazard warning lights

Get your vehicle off the road if possible and warn other traffic by using your hazard warning lights

If you've broken down it can be hard and often dangerous to stop.

Get your vehicle off the road if possible and warn other traffic by using your hazard warning lights, particularly if your vehicle is causing an obstruction.

Motorway hard shoulders are for emergency use only. You should only stop if it is a real emergency and you have no other choice. It's best to try to drive to a safer place off the motorway if you can rather than stopping on the hard shoulder.

Here are our tips on how to stop safely and call for help.

On a motorway with a hard shoulder

You must not stop on the hard shoulder to:

  • go to the toilet
  • use a mobile phone
  • check a route or map

Step by step

If an emergency forces you to stop:

  • pull on to the hard shoulder and stop as far to the left as possible with the wheels turned to the left
  • leave your sidelights on and turn on the hazard warning lights
  • get out of the vehicle by the left-hand door and make sure that all your passengers do the same
  • leave animals in the vehicle or in an emergency, keep them under proper control on the verge
  • if you have reflective jackets in the vehicle wear them – do not use a warning triangle on the hard shoulder
  • make sure that passengers keep away from the carriageway and hard shoulder and children are kept under control – it is best to retreat up the bank, or behind a barrier if this is possible
  • don't attempt even simple repairs
Driver location sign

Driver location sign

Calling for help

Once in a safe place use a mobile phone to call the AA, making sure you can describe your location – look out for the new Driver Location Signs which will help us pinpoint your location and direction of travel, or there are reference numbers on all telephones and marker posts.

If you have a smart phone you can download the AA App, which uses the GPS function on the phone to find your exact location.  With the simple touch of an icon both the call and the location are transferred to the AA Control Centre.

If you don't have a mobile walk to an emergency telephone on your side of the carriageway – never attempt to cross the carriageway. Follow the arrows on the posts at the back of the hard shoulder – the phone is free and connects directly to the police/Highways Agency. Give full details to the police and tell them if you are a vulnerable motorist, such as a woman travelling alone.

If you feel at risk from another person, return to your vehicle by a left-hand door and lock all doors. Leave your vehicle again as soon as you feel this danger has passed.

Broken down? Call us now on 0800 887766

Rejoining the carriageway

Build up speed on the hard shoulder and watch for a safe gap in the traffic before rejoining the carriageway. Be aware that other vehicles may be stationary on the hard shoulder.

If you can't get across to the hard shoulder

  • stopping on a running lane is extremely dangerous
  • switch on your hazard warning lights
  • don't attempt to place any warning device on the carriageway
  • leave the vehicle only when you can safely get clear of the carriageway

If you have a disability which prevents you from following the above then stay in your vehicle, keep your seatbelt on, switch on your hazard warning lights and use a mobile phone, if you have one, to contact the emergency services.

Smart motorways

If you need to stop in an emergency on Smart motorways, where the hard shoulder has been converted for use as a permanent traffic lane:

Use an emergency refuge area, motorway service area or leave at the next junction.

If this is not possible try and get the vehicle off the carriageway, if it is safe to do so.

If there is no choice but to stop in a live lane;

  • use hazard warning lights to help other drivers see you
  • if you are in the left hand lane and it is safe to do so, exit the vehicle via the left hand door.Wait behind the barrier if possible.
  • if you cannot exit the vehicle, do not feel it is safe to do so or there is no other place of relative safety, stay in the vehicle. Keep your seat belt on and dial ‘999’.

As soon as the highway operator is alerted, the regional control centre may use electronic signals to reduce speed limits and alert other drivers, and will dispatch a Traffic Officer to help protect the scene.

Lanes may also be closed to allow access for emergency vehicles, which can be any lane.


Emergency Refuge Areas (ERA)

Read more about smart motorways

On a smart motorway you will find 'Emergency Refuge Areas' at regular intervals rather than a continuous hard shoulder.

Operators in the Regional Control Centre (RCC) won't be alerted automatically whenever a vehicle enters or leaves an ERA but if you have to stop you will see signs in the ERA instructing you to contact the RCC (using the SOS phone) when you stop and before you leave. Operators will then be able to monitor your vehicle using CCTV.

Rule 276 of the Highway Code describes what you should do following a breakdown on the hard shoulder of a conventional motorway: "Before you rejoin the carriageway after a breakdown, build up speed on the hard shoulder and watch for a safe gap in the traffic".

ERA's are only short lay-bys, not long enough to allow you to build up sufficient speed before rejoining lane 1, so before leaving the ERA you must contact the Regional Control Centre and they will either dispatch a Highways Agency Traffic Officer and/or set signs and signals to assist your safe exit.

If you're driving and a red cross appears above lane 1 it could be to allow a slow moving vehicle to rejoin the carriageway from an ERA.

On other roads

Get your vehicle off the road if possible and warn other traffic by using your hazard warning lights, particularly if your vehicle is causing an obstruction.

  • If you have a reflective jacket, put it on.
  • If you have any fear that your vehicle may be struck by other traffic make all your passengers get out of the car and get well away from the traffic. Question whether it is safe for you to fix the car or whether you need professional help.
  • If it is safe and you have one, put a warning triangle or other permitted warning device on the road at least 45 metres (50 yards) behind your broken down vehicle on the same side of the road. Always take great care when doing this.
  • Keep your sidelights on if it is dark or visibility is poor.
  • Do not stand (or let anybody else stand), between your vehicle and oncoming traffic.
  • At night or in poor visibility do not stand where you will prevent other road users seeing your lights.
  • Use your mobile phone, the AA App or any other available phone to contact the AA (For AA breakdown call 0800 887766.)
  • If you have used a warning triangle remember to retrieve it, with care, when the breakdown is over.



The AA was a founder member of SURVIVE, a group of people, organisations and agencies dedicated to the promotion of driving safety.

SURVIVE is a partnership between the Highways Agency who are responsible for managing the motorway network, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the breakdown/recovery industry, and other road service providers.

SURVIVE has been established to improve the safety of those who work on the road network and the travelling public.

The SURVIVE group has published a handy leaflet "Surviving the Hard Shoulder" which summarises best practice advice on what you should do if you breakdown on a motorway. Why not print a copy and keep it handy in the glovebox of your car?

Visit the Survive Group website »

(updated 4 September 2015)


Broken down?

If you're already with the AA and need assistance, you can call us out and track your breakdown using our app.

Download our app
  • Download on the App Store
  • Android app on Google Play

Don't have AA cover?

If you're broken down now and don't have AA cover we can help you

Emergency breakdown number