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 is a dangerous place to spend time. Recent figures released by the Highways Agency revealed that between 2011 and 2016 there were 403 collisions on Britain’s motorway hard shoulders. Over that five-year period there were hundreds of injuries and, sadly, 38 deaths.

All our technicians receive comprehensive training on what to do and how to behave on the hard shoulder. While it’s their job to spend time at the side of motorways, 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 is a very dangerous place to be. 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, little Johnny having a pee isn’t classed as a valid reason for using the hard shoulder. I know kids can be caught short, but parents must take some responsibility here. It’s up to them ‑ the adults ‑ to ensure that children use the loo at services or rest stops and don’t need to go between junctions on motorways. It’s why if you stop on the hard shoulder and it isn’t an emergency you could be fined up to £100.

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

According to the Highways Agency stats, 70 per cent of hard shoulder collisions occurred when a vehicle was stationary. Exit your vehicle quickly through the left-side door and stand on the other side of the crash barrier to the rear of your car. This is so that if your car is run into, you’re less likely to be hit by flying debris.

DON’T get out on a smart motorway

The above advice about getting out of your car should apply, but only when it’s safe. If, for example you’re on a smart motorway and you break down away from one of the refuge areas, you’ll put yourself in danger of being hit by moving traffic if you get out of your car. So stay put, with your seatbelt on and alert the emergency services as quickly as possible.

DON’T let pets out

I’m sorry, but Fido’s got to stay in the car. Pets and fast-moving traffic don’t mix. The last thing you want is to cause an accident with an over-excited dog rampaging around.

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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