More than 100 people are killed or seriously injured each year on motorway hard shoulders in the UK, according to official figures.
Highways England has suggested that many drivers are putting themselves and others at risk by still using the hard shoulder incorrectly and are confused by the laws surrounding its use.
The confusion is only added to by the growing adoption of smart motorways, which change how drivers are expected to use the hard shoulder.
When can you use the hard shoulder?
In most cases there are only two legal uses for the hard shoulder – as a lane for emergency vehicles attending an incident and as a refuge for broken down vehicles.
Using it at any other time unless instructed to do so by traffic officers or roadworks signs can land you with a £100 fine and three points on your licence.
Stopping because a passenger feels unwell or needs the toilet, to use your mobile phone or because you are feeling tired are not acceptable uses for the hard shoulder.
You are also not allowed to use the hard shoulder to bypass traffic jams.
On smart motorways the rules can be different, with the hard shoulder being used as a regular traffic lane at certain times. On these stretches of road overhead gantries will display whether a hard shoulder is open to traffic or not.
How to use the hard shoulder
Even if you car does develop a problem on the motorway you should try to get off the motorway at a junction or service area for your own and others’ safety.
If you cannot make it off the motorway there are some basic rules you must follow when using the hard shoulder which we’ve compiled with help from the team at CarShop and the Highway Code.
- Put on your hazard lights to warn other drivers. If it’s dark, also put on your side lights, and if it’s foggy use the fog lights as well.
- Get out of the car using the left-hand doors and move as far away as possible from the road. If you are travelling with a pet, leave it in the car unless it is an emergency. If a pet gets loose on the motorway and causes an accident you will be held responsible.
- Do not put out a warning triangle – you will only put yourself at greater risk.
- Call a breakdown recovery service. If you don’t have a mobile phone use the nearest emergency phone. These are signposted by arrows on bollards next to the road. Walk on behind the roadside barrier and always towards oncoming traffic to reach the next phone.
- Give as many details as you can including your location and whether there are any vulnerable travellers such as children or people with disabilities.
- Return to your vehicle’s location to wait for rescue but stay as far away from it and the road as possible.