In this page we will:
- Explain what to do if you're in a breakdown on various road types
- Outline the steps to take if you've been involved in, or witnessed, a crash
This is step 8 of the Brake Roadmap to safe and healthy journeys, in partnership with Direct Line and Green Flag, helping you to learn about, and make, safe and healthy journey choices.
Being involved in a breakdown
Breaking down on the road can be a frustrating, unpleasant, and sometimes dangerous and scary, experience. Every year, people are killed or seriously injured while stopped on the roadside, but many drivers don’t know how to keep safe in the event of a breakdown.
If your vehicle develops a problem on the motorway:
- if your car develops a fault but you can continue driving, leave the motorway at the next available exit and stop at the service area;
- if the problem requires you to stop immediately, pull onto the hard shoulder and stop as far away from the traffic as you can, with the wheels turned to the left, if possible next to an emergency phone;
- never use a warning triangle on the hard shoulder of the motorway, as walking along the hard shoulder to place a warning triangle puts you at risk of being hit;
- never sit in your vehicle on the hard shoulder, even if the weather is bad. This is dangerous as you are at risk of being struck from behind at high speed;
- put on your hazard lights and get out on the left hand side, and wait on the verge, well away from traffic;
- anybody who is unable to leave the vehicle, for example someone with mobility issues, should wait inside the vehicle with their seatbelt securely fastened.
Never be tempted to try and fix your vehicle on the hard shoulder yourself – this is dangerous. Call for help instead, using an emergency phone if one is accessible without walking along the hard shoulder. These connect directly to the police control centre, and are numbered so that you can easily be located. Blue and white marker posts show the direction to the nearest phone.
Using the hard shoulder is legally permitted in only three instances: in a breakdown, an emergency, or if being pulled over by the police. Making a phone call, taking a toilet break or reading a map are not acceptable reasons to stop in the hard shoulder.
Smart motorways use technology to expand capacity and ease congestion on the strategic road network without widening the road infrastructure already in place. This may involve changing speed limits to make traffic flow more smoothly, activating warning signs to alert drivers to traffic jams and hazards, using the hard shoulder for traffic, or closing lanes to allow emergency vehicles through.
National Highways has developed the following advice for breakdowns on smart motorways.
If your vehicle has a problem on a motorway with no hard shoulder:
- Move into the left hand lane and put your hazard lights on.
- Exit at the next junction or services OR
- Follow the orange SOS signs to an emergency area and call for help using the free telephone. This will tell National Highways your location.
If you can’t get off the motorway or to an emergency area:
- Move your vehicle as close as possible to the left-hand verge, boundary or slip road.
- If you feel you can get out safely with any occupants, consider exiting your vehicle via the left-hand door, and wait behind the safety barrier if there is one and it is safe to do so. Keep clear of your vehicle and moving traffic at all times
- Call 999 immediately
If your car stops unexpectedly in any lane and it is not safe to get out:
- Keep your seatbelts and hazard lights on and call 999 immediately
- National Highways will close the lane and send help
If you break down somewhere other than the motorway, follow these guidelines to keep as safe as possible:
- if it is possible, avoid stopping in a dangerous place, such as on a roundabout, on a corner or near a brow. If you can safely keep driving for a short distance, drop your speed, use your hazard lights and try to pull off the road completely or in a location where you’re clearly visible;
- if you have to stop on a road, switch your hazard lights on. Only display an emergency triangle at least 45 metres behind your vehicle if it is safe for you to do so. Do not put yourself in a risky situation in putting out the triangle, and never use one on the hard shoulder of a motorway;
- do not attempt to fix your vehicle yourself at the roadside. Call a breakdown service;
- switch your engine off and stand as far away from the road as possible so you are not close to passing traffic;
- if you are involved in a crash that is serious, obstructs the road, or involves injuries, call the emergency services as soon as possible. If you have first aid training, provide appropriate, immediate help to anyone who is hurt.
Make sure you are prepared in case you breakdown by:
- carrying a mobile phone so that you can call for assistance, but on the motorway use a roadside phone if possible;
- carrying a map so you can easily explain where you are when calling for assistance. You can use a map app on your phone, but you may not have signal if you breakdown somewhere remote;
- keeping an emergency kit in your car, which should have a torch, a warning triangle, warm clothes and a reflective jacket or vest.
Being involved in a crash
Thousands of road crashes occur every week in the UK and so it's vital to know what to do if your vehicle is involved, or you witness a crash.
If you're involved in a crash
- Stop your vehicle - it is an offence to fail to do so
- Switch off your engine and put your hazard lights on
- Check for injuries to yourself or passengers. Call an ambulance and the police if anyone is hurt
- Call the police if the road is blocked
- If it's a minor crash, with no injuries, make a note of what happened for your records and any potential future follow-up
- Give your details to anyone else involved and collect details from any other drivers, passengers or witnesses
- Take photos if necessary
- Contact your insurer.
If you witness a crash
After witnessing a crash there are some basic actions that drivers can carry out to help protect themselves and other road users:
- Park safely at the side of the road; engage the handbrake and turn the vehicles’ wheels away from the crash site; turn on the hazard lights
- Remain alert to traffic and ensure that the vehicles/crash site is visible to passers-by
- Call the emergency services once your vehicle is safely parked and the engine is turned off
- Make sure that the handbrake(s) of the vehicle(s) involved is engaged
- Carry out a basic emergency assessment on the people involved
- Be prepared to carry out first aid actions (if you have received adequate training from a reputable training provider).