Expert advice: Dos and don’ts for stopping on motorway hard shoulders

Motorway hard shoulder

Don’t try to fix it yourself. Read our five dos and five don’ts for stopping on a motorway hard shoulder

A motorway hard shoulder can be a dangerous place to spend time. That’s why all our technicians receive comprehensive training on what to do and how to behave on the hard shoulder. While it’s part of their job to spend time at the side of the motorway, it’s also something every driver could have to face at some point in their car-owning career.

For that reason, I’ve compiled five dos and fives don’ts for the motorway hard shoulder.

DO take care entering the hard shoulder

The figures suggest that nearly one in five (16 per cent) of hard shoulder collisions happen as cars pull off the main carriageway onto the hard shoulder. Indicate left and start moving to the left as soon as you feel your car is losing power. Once you’ve come to a halt put your hazard warning lights on.

DO watch where you stop

Motorways have emergency phones at approximately one-mile intervals. About every 100 yards between the phones there’s a marker post. If you can, stop near either a phone or post. The post will tell you which direction the nearest phone is. As soon as you use a phone the emergency services will have pinpointed your location. The marker posts also have a number. This means if you have a mobile phone you can tell the emergency services the number and again, they’ll know exactly where you are.

DO be careful how you stop

You’re on the hard shoulder now, pull your car as far to the left as possible. And when it finally comes to a halt, turn your steering wheel to the left. If your car is hit from behind, this ensures it hits the crash barrier or verge and doesn’t spear back onto the carriageway.

DO wear a reflective jacket

If you have them, wear hi-vis jackets. Buy enough for all the family over the internet and you’ll be very pleasantly surprised how cheap they are.

DO rejoin the carriageway carefully

According to the Highways Agency, 14 per cent of hard shoulder collisions took place as the vehicle rejoined the main carriageway. To do this safely, don’t just start the engine, indicate and pull right. First get up some speed. The noise this makes will be a bit unnerving with grit and stones pinging off the bottom of the car. Hard shoulders are covered in debris. Be aware that you might come across bits of exhaust pipe and other hard debris too. Then when you get to around 50mph, if it’s safe to do so, indicate right and pull onto the carriageway.

DON’T use the hard shoulder unless you must

As we’ve established, being at the side of a motorway can be dangerous. That’s why stopping on the hard shoulder is only permitted in an emergency, if you break down or if a police officer tells you to. When I say emergency, that does not include stopping to go to the toilet.

The hard shoulder needs to be clear for people to stop if they need to. That’s why if you stop on the hard shoulder and it isn’t an emergency, you could be fined.

DON’T stay in your car

Motorway hard shoulder

Wait for rescue on the other side of the crash barrier. And stand back from it too

Exit your vehicle quickly through the left-side door (away from the road) and stand on the other side of the crash barrier, if you’re able to do so.

If you can’t safely leave your car, keep your hazard lights and seatbelts on, and call 999 immediately.

DON’T forget about Smart motorway rules

Smart motorways are different from regular motorways. One of these differences is that there may not be a hard shoulder. Instead, Smart motorways have orange ‘Emergency Refuge Areas’ every mile or so for you to stop in.

It’s well worth taking the time to read through this article on what to do if you break down on a Smart motorway.

DON’T let pets out

If you have any pets with you, National Highways recommends leaving them in the vehicle. This is to prevent them from panicking and suddenly running towards the motorway.

If you do decide to take your pet out of the vehicle with you, always keep them close-by and behind the barrier.

DON’T try to mend your car

Unless it’s an incredibly obvious, straightforward, and above all quick fix, our technicians never work on cars on the hard shoulder. Instead they will tow it off the motorway or to a service area where they can get it going again in comparative safety. You should follow this example and not even bother lifting the bonnet if you’re beside a motorway. After all, we’re the experts and we don’t do it.

motorway hard shoulderNick Reid is head of automotive technology at Direct Line Group and a fellow of the Institute of the Automotive Industry

15 comments on “Expert advice: Dos and don’ts for stopping on motorway hard shoulders

  1. Eric Hayman 17/11/2017 8:16 AM

    Well done, Green Flag – no mention of accidents (the now forbidden word) on the hard shoulder. Only collisions – the word we are told to use, even when only one moving vehicle is involved. Just how the truth is twisted by our political masters. As for the stupidly named “smart motorways”, well the name makes me smart. More like “extra dangerous motorways”. Carry on the good work!

  2. P Martin 12/08/2019 7:20 PM

    What is the definition of a Smart Motorway – it would have been helpful if you had said. Not everybody knows.

  3. Paul Archer 12/08/2019 7:35 PM

    I once heard that you should park the car at an angle so onlooking lorry drivers would instinctively know it was stationery. A straight parked car on the hard shoulder can look like a moving car to a lorry driver

  4. Jean Tipper 13/08/2019 4:35 AM

    Lovely welcome letter..thank you.

  5. DPJWYKE 13/08/2019 6:20 AM

    Thank you green flag for this motorway information

  6. Terry Dite 13/08/2019 8:28 AM

    ‘Collisions’ is generally the correct word to use. ‘Accidents’ are invariably caused by inconsideration, inexperience, indiiference or plain bad driving. ‘Accidents’ are the result of unavoidable situations.

  7. Terry Pilfold 13/08/2019 1:15 PM

    Is the photo at the beginning of the article not the wrong way round? Vehicles appear to be driving on the right hand side?

  8. Geoffrey Hickin 13/08/2019 8:30 PM

    I’m surprised you haven’t mentioned the stupidity of the clown in your picture looking into the bonnet whilst on the hard shoulder! He’s wearing flip flops,I thought they were illegal!

  9. Graham 14/08/2019 6:40 AM

    Great information and advice. Thank you

  10. Anthony Billings 14/08/2019 10:33 AM

    Sound advice have used this in practise when I broke down once on the m25 .

  11. John carr 14/08/2019 7:55 PM

    I have suggested to H A that the hard shoulder accidents could be greatly reduced if vehicles on this refuge should display a high intensity flashing coloured LED light at roof level to warm other drivers of their presence in an effort to reduce collisions, show up on cctv screens and be an easier reference locator for recovery vehicles over a greater distance.
    Current hazard lights are too low and too dim.

  12. clifford bradey 15/08/2019 8:26 AM

    could not disagree more on staying in your vehicle on the so called smart motorways ? when there is no hard shoulder to pull into. At least you have a chance of scrabbling to the side of the road out of the vehicle, sitting in your vehicle waiting for a lorry etc; to smash into you is not an option ! Most disgraceful and dangerous decision ever made to do away with some of the hard shoulders on the motorways, it is a tragedy waiting to happen !

  13. Bill Homan-Russell 15/08/2019 9:32 AM

    The picture shows someone wearing flip-flops. Although there is no suggestion that he was the driver I think that an opportunity should have been taken to make the point very strongly that correct attire should be worn, particularly when driving on a motorway. There is also merit in carrying a hi-viz vest in the cockpit and at least one person wearing it when getting out the vehicle on a motorway.

  14. George 15/08/2019 12:35 PM

    Thank you green flag taking grand children to Cornwall.

  15. Peter Armand 20/08/2019 12:18 PM

    surprised how many cars you pass on the hard shoulder at dusk or night time with no lights switched on or hazard lights operating.

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