The hard shoulder. When can I stop on it, and what do I do?

Hard-shoulder highways works with bollards and signage, day.

Published 9 April 2021
Last updated 12 April 2022

When can (and can't) you stop on a hard shoulder? We look at rules 264 and 275 of The Highway Code, the rules on smart motorways, and what to do if you have to stop on the hard shoulder.

Yesterday, your blog team was scouring the internet for interesting stories when we came across some footage of a lorry driver checking his tyres. No, bear with us – it’s about to get better, we promise.

You see, the lorry had just suffered a blowout on the motorway. The driver stopped on the hard shoulder, went to investigate and was almost hit by another truck.

Hard truths

Now, you might be thinking that the hard shoulder is just another lane that you can use if the traffic is bad, or if you need to stop and check something. (Like, ‘Did I remember to put my wellies in the boot?’) If that’s the case, please allow us to introduce rule 264 of The Highway Code:

'You MUST NOT drive on the hard shoulder except in an emergency or if directed to do so by the police, traffic officers in uniform or by signs.'

That means no stopping to make a call on your mobile or check your Facebook. In fact, it means no stopping for anything except a breakdown or an emergency, so turn your phone off and tuck it away in your glove compartment before you start your journey – that status update can wait.

Smart thinking

Before we go any further, it’s worth focusing on that ‘signs’ element of rule 264 of The Highway Code. If you’re a regular driver on UK motorways, you may have come across a ‘smart motorway’.

‘What’s that?’ you ask. ‘A motorway with a brain?’ Well, sort of. These roads use the latest technology to actively ‘manage’ motorists’ journeys. Depending on the traffic and weather conditions, the signs on smart motorways

  • regulate speed
  • provide warning information
  • tell you about open/closed lanes.

On smart motorways, you may find that at certain times of the day – for example, rush hour – the hard shoulder is open as an extra running lane. Before you make any move, just remember to check the overhead signs for guidance.

It’s also worth remembering that smart motorways have special emergency refuge areas for use in the event of a breakdown or emergency.

‘Tyred’ of wondering

At this point, you may be wondering whether our lorry driver had a legal right to stop on the hard shoulder. Well, this is what rule 275 says:

'If your vehicle develops a problem, leave the motorway at the next exit or pull into a service area. If you cannot do so, you should

  • pull on to the hard shoulder and stop as far to the left as possible, with your wheels turned to the left …'

So the answer is yes: in this case, the lorry driver was perfectly justified. He was unlikely to make it to the nearest service area without causing further damage to his lorry or putting himself and other drivers at risk. He did the right thing – right up until he decided to inspect the damage to his tyre.

Learning the hard way

If your vehicle has a problem and you have to stop on the hard shoulder, first get your vehicle as far over to the left as you possibly can.

Once you’ve stopped

  • switch on your hazard warning lights, so that other drivers can see you’ve broken down
  • make sure your sidelights are on in poor visibility or at night
  • do not open the offside (driver’s side) doors
  • warn your passengers about the dangers of passing vehicles
  • keep animals inside
  • together with your passengers, leave the vehicle by the nearside doors (the side away from the traffic). Lock all doors, except the front passenger door
  • ask your passengers to wait near the vehicle, but on the embankment away from the hard shoulder
  • telephone the emergency services. If possible, use a roadside emergency telephone (which will pinpoint your position), rather than a mobile phone. Tell the operator if you’re a vulnerable motorist, such as a disabled or older person, or are travelling alone or with young children.


  • attempt even simple repairs on the motorway
  • place any kind of warning device on the carriageway or hard shoulder.

Oh, and remember to let the recovery services take care of the problem with your vehicle!

Where to find out more …

To find out more about motorway driving, head on over to our shop and pick up a copy of The Official DVSA Guide to Driving – the essential skills.

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