Driving on the motorways

Driving on motorways

Whatever part of National Highways' network you’re driving on, we want you to stay safe and know what to do if anything goes wrong.

We explain the main features of the motorway, and we provide advice and guidance on safer driving and what to do in an emergency.

Know when you're driving on a smart motorway

Around 10 per cent of the motorway network is now made up of smart motorways. So it's important to be able to recognise their features and how they work together.

On some motorways the hard shoulder has been converted into a permanent extra lane. Emergency areas are placed at intervals alongside the highway.

On busier sections of some motorways, the hard shoulder can be temporarily opened to traffic as an extra lane.

These technology-enabled sections of motorways have enhancements such as:

  • electronic message signs that display red X signals and variable speed limits
  • sensors to monitor traffic volumes
  • CCTV cameras
  • emergency areas, with emergency roadside telephones

What does the Red X sign mean?

What do the traffic signs and signals mean?

What to do in an emergency

Go left. Leave at the next junction or service area if you can. If that’s not possible, move left onto the hard shoulder or nearest emergency area. Don’t put out a warning triangle or try to repair your vehicle yourself.

If you can, get yourself and any passengers out of the vehicle via the passenger door, and get behind the safety barrier where there is one, and if it is safe to do so, and on to the verge. If you're on a verge be aware of any unseen hazards such as sudden drops, uneven ground or debris. Keep clear of your vehicle and moving traffic at all times. If you don’t, moving traffic could collide with your vehicle, forcing it into you and your passengers.

If your car stops unexpectedly and it isn’t safe to get out:

  • stay in your vehicle
  • keep your seatbelts and hazard warning lights on
  • call 999 immediately. Alternatively, press your SOS button (if your vehicle has one) and ask for the police. The emergency services can alert us, so we can close motorway lanes and send other help as required, such as a Traffic Officer
  • tell the operator if you're disabled and/or a vulnerable motorist - such as an older person or travelling alone

If you have a hearing, speech or physical impairment that means you can’t use an emergency roadside phone, text us on 0738 028 3600 for roadside assistance.

We also offer British Sign Language users the SignLive service for getting in touch with our customer contact centre. Both are available 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

See guidance for motorcyclists on the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency's website.

Breaking down on a motorway with a hard shoulder
Illustration of a motorway with a hard shoulder;
Breaking down on a motorway without a hard shoulder
Illustration of a motorway without a hard shoulder;
Breaking down in a live lane or in roadworks
Illustration of broken down car in live lane with hazard lights on;
If you're involved in a collision
Illustration of a car hitting the back of another car;

Help protect yourself and other drivers

Stay within the speed limit and keep left unless you’re overtaking. This helps to keep you and other road users safe, and to keep traffic flowing as smoothly as possible.

Plan ahead. Check that your vehicle is safe and roadworthy, and that you have enough fuel for your journey. Remember to plan for breaks and don’t drive when you’re tired.

If you or anyone in your vehicle is unable to follow our breakdowns advice for any reason, stay in your vehicle, keep your seatbelts and hazard warning lights on and call 999 immediately.

Don't stop to assist another vehicle that has broken down or been involved in a collision. You may feel you want to help, but it's safer to call National Highways, or if there is an immediate risk to life call 999.

Keep the following items in the car if you can:

  • Warm clothes
  • Hi-vis jacket
  • A torch
  • Breakdown cover details

Make sure you have these items with you before you set off on a long journey:

  • Any medication you need
  • Charged mobile phone
  • Food and water