Fleet News

Breakdowns: danger lurks at every bend

RESEARCH by one of the country’s leading motoring organisations has shown that thousands of company car drivers are risking their lives every year, because they don’t know what to do or choose to ignore safety advice in the event of a breakdown.

Among the worst errors business drivers have made are sitting in the car on the hard shoulder and wandering alone on badly-lit back streets, according to AA Business Services. One driver was even found attempting to change a wheel in the fast lane of the M6.

Research by the AA shows that more than half of all motorists breaking down on motorways risk death or serious injury by sticking with their vehicles on the hard shoulder.

One in three stay inside their vehicle and a further 23% get out of their vehicle but remain near it on the hard shoulder.

Roger Williams, head of major fleets and leasing at AA Business Services, said: ‘Company car drivers are among the worst offenders, either because they haven’t been given advice about what to do, or because it isn’t their vehicle and they haven’t considered what to do if they breakdown.

‘Ignoring hard shoulder breakdown advice is without doubt the worst and most dangerous thing company car drivers can do. Staying in your car leaves you at risk of being involved in a collision with passing vehicles but a frightening number of drivers take this gamble.’

The AA recently attended a call-out on the motorway to a businessman sitting in his car on the hard shoulder.

When questioned why he had risked his own life by staying in the vehicle, he revealed that he was wearing an expensive Italian suit that he did not want to get wet.

A spokeswoman for road safety charity Brake added: ‘More than 200 drivers lose their lives on motorway hard shoulders every year and more than one in four men (28%) will attempt to fix their cars on the hard shoulder.’

However, breakdowns in urban areas can be just as dangerous for drivers. Williams explained: ‘Although motorways have always been considered the most risky place to break down, with the increase in certain types of vehicle crime, it could potentially be much more dangerous to break down in an inner-city area, particularly alone in the dark.’

In fact a quarter of all business breakdowns take place in inner city areas, with 27% occurring in the dark.

‘Most fleets give company car drivers a breakdown card but they need to pay more attention to personal safety, and in particular the need for increased awareness and education to make sure drivers understand who to call and what to do in a breakdown situation.’

Servicing vehicles at manufacturers’ recommended intervals could prevent some breakdowns but managers should also request drivers complete vehicle checks such as tyre pressures and oil levels on a weekly basis to minimise the risk of breakdowns.

A spokesman for the RAC said: ‘The most common faults are caused by a lack of maintenance or understanding of the car’s systems.

‘A simple routine like checking tyres for damage and correct pressure, as recommended by the manufacturer, may prevent drivers returning to the vehicle to find a flat tyre or, even worse, experiencing a blow-out on the motorway.’

Advice for drivers – what to do in the event of a breakdown


  • Pull on to the hard shoulder and stop as far to the left as possible, with wheels turned to the left.

  • Leave sidelights on and use hazard warning lights.

  • Try to stop near an emergency telephone (situated at approximately one mile intervals along the hard shoulder).

  • Leave the vehicle by the left-hand door and ensure all your passengers do the same. Leave any animals in the vehicle or, in an emergency, keep them under proper control on the verge.

  • If you have reflective jackets in the vehicle, wear them. Do not use a reflective triangle as the risk to the driver of placing it on the road outweighs the advantage of its warning tool function.

  • Ensure passengers keep away from the carriageway and hard shoulder, and that children are kept under control.

  • Do not attempt even simple repairs.

  • Walk to an emergency telephone on your side of the carriageway (follow the arrows on the posts at the back of the hard shoulder). The telephone is free of charge and connects directly to the police.

  • Use these in preference to a mobile phone. If you must use a mobile phone make sure you can describe your location – there are reference numbers on all telephones and marker posts.

  • Give full details to the police. Also inform them if you are a vulnerable motorist such as a woman travelling alone.

  • Return and wait near your vehicle, well away from the carriageway and hard shoulder. It is best to retreat up the bank, or behind a barrier if this is possible.


  • If waiting for breakdown services, try to stop somewhere well lit.

  • Switch on your hazard warning lights, or keep sidelights on if visibility is poor.

  • If you are alone, do not wander around unfamiliar back streets, but lock the car doors and keep valuables out of sight.

  • If someone tries to get into your car, attract attention by sounding the horn.

    (Source: AA Business Services)

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