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.

Driving on motorways

To 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.

What to do if you get into trouble

  • 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.
  • If you can’t do that, go left. Move into the left-hand lane and put your hazard warning lights on. 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 over the safety barrier on to the verge. Keep clear of your vehicle and moving traffic at all times. If you can’t get to an emergency phone, then call 999 immediately.
  • If your car stops unexpectedly and it isn’t safe to get out, keep your seatbelt and hazard lights on and call 999 immediately.
  • 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.

Keep the following items in the car if you can:

  • Warm clothes
  • Hi-vis jacket
  • A torch
  • An atlas or electronic map
  • 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

How we’re keeping you safe

We use technology on some of our motorways to smooth the flow of traffic, help to reduce delays and improve safety.

This includes:

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

Stay vigilant and pay attention to the electronic message boards

These are above or next to the road, and sometimes there is a sign above each lane. The signs are controlled by our regional control centres, and are enforceable by law. Cameras monitor traffic flow, and speed limits can be changed depending on the road conditions.

A lane is closed if there is a red X above it and it's against the law to drive under one

Lanes are closed when there's a broken-down vehicle, an accident or obstruction and - most importantly - when people are on the road. This could be stranded road users, people working to repair the network, or breakdown crews.

If there's no hard shoulder, use an emergency area where possible

Motorways that don’t have hard shoulders have emergency areas instead. These are placed at regular intervals and are painted orange, with orange SOS signs to show where they are. Each of these areas has an emergency phone where you must call for help.

Make sure you contact us if you’re in an emergency area. We'll make sure that lane 1 is clear for you to rejoin the motorway safely.

If you have a hearing, speech or physical impairment that means you can’t use an emergency roadside phone

Contact us via text 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 of these services are available 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

If you and your vehicle are ready to join the motorway from a hard shoulder or emergency area, take extra care to stay safe as you get back into the live lane

Build up speed, use your indicators and watch for a gap in the traffic to re-join the carriageway safely. Be aware that there may be other vehicles stopped ahead of you on the hard shoulder or in the emergency area.

Motorway driving golden rules

  • Never drive in a lane closed by a red X signal
  • Keep to the speed limits shown on the signs
  • A hard shoulder is always identified by a solid white unbroken line – if there’s no speed limit displayed above it or a red X signal is displayed, do not use it except in an emergency
  • A broken white line indicates a normal live lane
  • On a motorway with no hard shoulder, use the emergency areas for emergencies
  • If your vehicle experiences difficulties, for example if a warning light comes on, exit the motorway immediately if you can
  • If you break down, put your hazard lights on
  • Most breakdowns are preventable – keep your car well maintained, check your tyres and make sure you have enough fuel for your journey

If you get into trouble on a motorway - go left

Knowing what to do in an emergency or breakdown will help keep you and others safe.

What to do if you break down on a motorway