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Driving with a Disability: What to do if you Break Down [AD]

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Do you know what to do if your vehicle breaks down on the motorway? As a disabled passenger, it’s something I’ve always worried about especially as I can’t easily exit the vehicle. But it’s really important to know what to do in these situations. Here’s some breakdown tips for disabled drivers and passengers.

Emma, a power wheelchair user sitting in front of her wheelchair accessible vehicle. Emma is smiling and looking at the camera.

What to do if you break down on the motorway

Breaking down can be unpredictable and daunting. If your vehicle has a problem on a motorway, try and stay calm and exit at the next junction or motorway service area. If that’s not possible remember to:

1. Go left 

As soon as you experience an issue with your vehicle, put your left indicator on and move into the left lane. Depending on the circumstances and what type of motorway you’re on, go left into an emergency area or on to the hard shoulder.

Emergency areas are spaced regularly on motorways with no hard shoulder. They’re painted orange and marked with blue and orange signs with the SOS telephone symbol to indicate distance to the next one.

2. Switch on your hazard lights 

Switch on your hazard lights to let other drivers know you’re there and having trouble. Fog lights and sidelights are also essential, particularly when it’s dark or during bad weather. So, make sure you regularly check that all your lights are working before you travel.  

3. Get to a safe place away from moving traffic

If it’s safe, and you can get out with any passengers, exit your vehicle and get behind a safety barrier if you can – they offer extra protection. Gather any items you may need, such as a mobile phone, coat, food, drink and medication. Keep well away from your vehicle and moving traffic, even if it’s raining, cold or dark.

4. Stay in your vehicle if you are disabled or can’t exit your vehicle safely

If you or someone in the car is disabled, or you’ve stopped in moving traffic and you can’t exit safely, it’s important to stay inside, keep your seatbelts and hazard lights on and call for help immediately.

If you’re in an emergency area, call Highways England on 0300 123 5000. If you’re not in an emergency area or feel your life is in danger, contact 999 immediately. Tell the operator you are disabled. The emergency services will alert Highways England to help keep you safe.

5. Call for assistance

The emergency phones on the side of the road are free to use and will connect you directly to a Highways England control centre. They also help to identify your location, so try to stop near one if you can. If you can’t get out of your car, you can also call Highways England on 0300 123 5000, or you can text them on 0738 028 3600.

Once you’ve alerted Highways England of your situation, call a breakdown provider for assistance. Motability Scheme customers have breakdown cover included in their lease which is provided by RAC Motability Assist. You can call them on 0800 73 111 73.

Way to be prepared and help prevent a breakdown on the motorway

Most break downs are preventable, and simple vehicle checks can help you have a safer journey.

  • Keep your vehicle maintained with up to date servicing/MOT. 
  • Regularly check fuel, oil and tyres. 
  • Always make sure your phone is well charged. Have an in-car charger to keep your phone fully charged or a mobile phone power bank in case of emergencies.
  • Have your breakdown provider and highways authority numbers saved in your mobile phone as well as written down and kept in your glove box.
  • Keep blankets, an extra jacket, some food and any medication you need in your vehicle. 

What happened when my WAV broke down

Luckily I haven’t had a motorway breakdown, but I now feel confident in what I would do if it happened. And although we live in Scotland, we often travel to England for gigs and holidays so I have saved the Highways England contact number on my phone in case we ever need it.  

The only time we broke down was actually in our street where we live. We were heading off to Manchester to catch a flight to Lisbon so it could not have happened at a more inconvenient time. 

A photo collage showing two images. The one of the left is the back of Emma's wheelchair accessible car and the RAC van parked behind it. The one of the right is the RAC mechanic sitting in the drivers seat of Emma's car.
RAC Mechanic working on Emma’s Ford Tourneo Connect WAV

Because we had broken down in our street, we weren’t in any immediate danger so I called RAC Motability Assist for assistance. Had it happened on the motorway on our way to Manchester, then I would have followed the tips above including calling Highways England, 999 and RAC Motability Assist.  

You can read more about my vehicle breakdown experience: What To Do When Your Motability Scheme Vehicle Breaks Down.

Let me know if you’ve had any motorway breakdown experiences in the comments below.

More on this topic…

Free Kwik Fit Mobile Tyre Fitting Service at Home for Motability Scheme Customers
6 Top Tips: How To Choose The Best Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV)
5 Top Tips: How To Look After A Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV)
Adapting Vehicles to Become Wheelchair Accessible

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Meet Emma

Hello I’m Emma. My mission is to show you the possibilities of accessible travel through my travel guides, tips and reviews. I also share personal stories, live event reviews and more.

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4 Responses

  1. Hi Emma. This is such and important post. I knew some things such as contacting highways England but I didn’t know in what circumstances to call them and this post has really helped me know what to do in the future should we break down on the motorway what with me being a disabled passenger and unable to get out the car in most circumstances because of my disability. We don’t drive a WAV it’s Just an ordinary car and my wheelchair goes into the boot or backseat depending on how many passengers are in the car but this post has just Made me realise how vulnerable I am on the motorway especially as we travel regularly on the motorway for hospital appointments down in London. I feel that this information is really important to share so would you mind if I shared this information in my own words on my own blog? I will of course name you as the original source of the information. Alternatively if you are able to I would love you to be a guest blogger on my blog post and share this information on my blog as a guest blogger because I do feel that it’s really important that this information is shared as much as possible To let as many people know as possible what do in the scenario whether they are a disabled passenger or a disabled driver. Many thanks for sharing this post, Naomi

  2. I’m a truck driver and have had to contact the police to report stranded vehicles in lane 1 of a motorway on more than one occasion. One time I was driving down the M1 on the way back from Chesterfield and there was a car stopped in lane 1 which I had a near-miss with. Passed it, noted the mile post and called 999. They told me they couldn’t use the mile post as “Highways use it”. They asked me the nearest junction (which I couldn’t remember the number of) and I told them “well, I took down the milepost number as I thought it was there for a reason”. ‘Smart’ motorways are deadly. I can’t even say “if you can avoid them, do” as there often is no alternative. It makes me sick to see Highways England tell people to “pull left” when there is only a running lane on the left to pull into.

    It’s worth remembering that the rescue service you contact with the orange roadside phones will only take you to the nearest place of safety, usually the next service station. I once broke down on the M40 in Oxfordshire (not in my car, luckily; I was working for British Car Auctions taking cars for sale) and they would only take me as far as Cherwell Valley.

  3. Thanks Emma, great post. I’ve just added both these contacts to my mobile. I know you can get the phones and can Google but I’ve never considered how much easier and beneficial it is to just have it on me.
    Also, love the car. We are waiting for our Tourneo in July and can’t wait!

  4. Brilliant post Emma. I am a wheelchair driver and very rarely have someone with me. I have got an emergency button in my WAV that I can press if something goes wrong with my WAV when I am out that is connected to the RAC.

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