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What should you do if your car breaks down on the motorway?

A new survey reveals that three-quarters of drivers would put themselves at risk by not following recommended safety advice

Motorway breakdown

Nearly 80 per cent of drivers risk unwittingly placing themselves in danger following a motorway breakdown, new research from the RAC suggests.

The motoring and breakdown organisation surveyed drivers to find out what they’d do after breaking down on the hard shoulder on a wet and cold wintry night, and only 22 per cent said they’d follow the best advice - which is to stand to the rear of their stranded vehicle, as far as possible from traffic, and behind a crash barrier if there is one.

Even more worryingly, more than 10 per cent of drivers surveyed said they would stay inside their vehicle, exposing themselves to the significant risk of being injured or worse if their vehicle is hit by other traffic. 65 per cent of drivers said they would get out of their cars, but would stand either in front of their car, or next to it, which also exposes them to greater danger should their stationary vehicle be hit.

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The results of the survey of almost 2,000 drivers correlates with data from 200 RAC breakdown patrols, which showed that 78 per cent of drivers were waiting inside their vehicles when they attended motorway incidents.

The RAC has produced a video for its members highlighting the safest course of action, plus extra info on what drivers or passengers with mobility issues should do, featuring two of its patrols Glen Johnson and James Pallister.

Johnson, who has been an RAC patrol since 2018 in the North West of England, said: “Standing in the wrong place in the event of a breakdown on a high-speed road can be the difference between staying safe and being seriously injured, or worse.  

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 “Our number-one priority is ensuring our members stay safe on the roads, so we’re always looking for new ways to communicate the right thing to do after breaking down. That’s why we thought a video would be the best way to show drivers what to do while they wait for help if they’re unlucky enough to break down on one of our fastest roads.  

North East-based patrol Pallister said: “Increasingly, when we arrive at the scene of a motorway breakdown we find members still inside their vehicles, or stood next to or in front of them – two of the most dangerous places to be with vehicles approaching at fast speeds.  

“Instead, our advice to drivers and their passengers is to use the doors furthest from the traffic to leave their vehicle, stand to the rear of their vehicle, facing and as far away from oncoming traffic as possible, behind a barrier if there is one. The only exception to this is if someone has mobility difficulties and can’t easily leave the vehicle – in which case they should keep their seatbelt on and call 999.”  

Alice Simpson, a spokesperson for RAC Breakdown, acknowledges that in cold, wet or wintry weather there’s a strong temptation to take a risk and stay warm and dry in a broken-down car at the roadside.

 “Sadly, we know from experience this is absolutely the wrong thing to do unless for some reason you aren’t able to get out of the vehicle,” she says. “This is why we are always reminding people to pack plenty of layers, good waterproof clothing and sturdy footwear so they can keep warm while they wait for help.”  

Click here for our list of the safest cars on sale...

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Current affairs and features editor

Chris covers all aspects of motoring life for Auto Express. Over a long career he has contributed news and car reviews to brands such as Autocar, WhatCar?, PistonHeads, Goodwood and The Motor Trader.

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