How to stay safe if you break down

If your car breaks down, you and your passengers could be open to a great number of dangers. Indeed, research shows that deaths and injuries on motorway hard shoulders leapt by almost 20% between 2005 and 2007.

You should consider how to keep everyone safe, and to help you, here are some essential tips to help you if you break down on any road:

Keep everyone safe. It's a good idea to get your vehicle off the road, away from moving traffic. Ensure your passengers are safe - get them out of the car - and any animals you have with you are kept under control.

Warn other road users. Turn on your hazard warning lights, and put a warning triangle on the road at least 45 metres (150 feet) behind your broken-down vehicle, on the same side of the road - don't use a warning device on a motorway carriageway, though, as you may be putting yourself in danger from fast-moving traffic.

If it's dark or visibility is poor, keep your sidelights on, but don't let anyone stand in front of them. Wear a fluorescent/reflective jacket or tabard, but again, don't stand (or let anyone else stand) between your vehicle and approaching traffic.

Call for help. But don't use a mobile near petrol fumes or spillage. Contact your breakdown recovery service or dial the emergency services on 999 (112 if you're abroad). Ensure you give clear information about your location - road number, direction of travel ('east' or 'towards Salisbury'), landmarks and so on.

Help your roadside assistance provider when they ask for your vehicle type, registration number and number of persons with the vehicle, by being prepared with the information. You may also be asked if you have any idea of the cause of the breakdown.

Finally, when help arrives, don't forget to ask for proof of identity.

Extra considerations if you break down on a motorway

Move to safety. If your vehicle is able, try to leave the motorway at the next exit or pull into a service area.

If you can't leave the motorway. Turn on your indicators or hazard warning lights, and pull on to the hard shoulder. Stop as far to the left as possible, and turn your wheels to the left. Try to stop near an emergency telephone, if possible; it'll save you an inconvenient and possibly dangerous walk.

Leave the vehicle by the left-hand doors so as not to expose you and your passengers to the danger of speeding traffic - you should leave animals in the vehicle, except in an emergency.

Once they are out of the vehicle, keep people away from the carriageway and children under control. Do not attempt even simple repairs, or to leave the bonnet open.

Get help. There are posts every 100 metres at the back of the hard shoulder. Follow the arrows on the post to the nearest emergency telephone - calls are free and are connected directly to the police. When you give your details to them, be sure to tell them if you feel vulnerable - for example, if you are woman travelling alone, or if you have young children with you.

When you return to your vehicle, wait behind the barrier on the motorway embankment.

When you're ready to get on your way, always increase speed on the hard shoulder before rejoining the traffic in a safe gap.

David Williams is the chief executive of GEM Motoring Assist, a multi award-winning provider of breakdown cover in the UK. For further information about staying safe when you breakdown, please download our free breakdown guide PDF.

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