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The hard shoulder

Rules and regulations

When and how to use the hard shoulder

The hard shoulder: A narrow emergency lane along the left of a motorway,
separated by a solid white line.

Most deaths on the hard shoulder happen within 30 minutes of the driver pulling over.

Using this part of the motorway should be an absolute last resort, for a breakdown or emergency.

It's not a nice place to be, which is why you always need to be on top of your car maintenance and motorway safety knowledge.


When to use the hard shoulder

  • When your car has broken down
  • When there's an emergency
  • If the police tell you to
  • If you're on a smart motorway and the dynamic hard shoulder is in use

...and when NOT to use the hard shoulder

  • Checking a map or your phone
  • Having a rest
  • Going for a wee
  • Any other non-emergency

Stopping illegally on the hard shoulder could see you get a minimum £100 fine and 3 driving licence penalty points. Check what The Highway Code says about breakdowns and emergencies on the motorway.

How to use the hard shoulder

  1. Pull onto the hard shoulder if you can't make it to a service station - try to stop near an emergency SOS phone if you can
  2. Park as far to the left as possible, with your wheels turned AWAY from traffic
  3. Put on your hazard lights to help other drivers see you're there
  4. Get out of your car from the LEFT PASSENGER DOOR and stand on the verge, as far away from the traffic as possible
  5. Use an emergency SOS phone or your own phone to call for help
  6. Stay behind the barrier, as far away from traffic as possible

...and how NOT to use the hard shoulder

  • Do not stay in the car to wait
  • Do not stand close to the car as you could be hurt if it's hit
  • Do not use the right hand door to get out of the car
  • Do not let pets out of the car as they could run into the road
  • Do not try to place a warning triangle
  • Do not stand between your car and the breakdown or police vehicle, as one of them could be hit

Using an SOS phone:

  1. Follow the blue and white marker posts to the nearest orange SOS phone, walking well away from the traffic
  2. You will connect directly to the police - tell them the number on the phone so they can locate you

How to rejoin the motorway

Once your problem is sorted and you're told you can go on your way, get back in the car through the left passenger door. Then use the hard shoulder to get up to speed (as you would a slip road) and join the traffic when it is safe.

Updated: 25/02/2019

1 in 10 motorway crashes involves a vehicle parked on the hard shoulder. Find out more about motorway driving.

Images: The Highways Agency