Highway Safety: Don't stop in the breakdown lane

Guaranteed to be drowning in offers for assistance in under 10 seconds. The rest of us: maybe not so fortunate...

Guaranteed to be drowning in offers for assistance in under 10 seconds. The rest of us: maybe not so fortunate...

The breakdown lane on the freeway is a dangerous place. Here's how not to dice with death, stopped

My favourite place not to stop on the freeway: the breakdown lane. Understand the shocking risk motorists face when they don’t even think twice about dicing with death in the breakdown lane by watching the video below.

Have you ever really thought about what you would do if you break down on the freeway? Consider this:


This is the most common cause of vehicle breakdown (provided of course you watch the fuel gauge as you drive). Changing a tyre in the breakdown lane is very dangerous – especially on the driver’s side, where you are potentially terminally exposed to the traffic flow. Better to identify the problem (flat tyre), activate the vehicle’s hazard lights, move into the breakdown lane, and drive forward at low speed (say 15-20km/h) until you reach an emergency stopping bay, which offers steel ‘Armco’ railing or other physical, engineering-type protection from passing traffic. On a backroad, just look for a safe, wide spot to pull over in. You might well destroy the flat tyre if you drive on it, but so be it if you do. Your own life is certainly worth more than a replacement tyre.


In this case, there is often no choice about where to stop. As you are rolling, activate the hazard lights, and coast into the breakdown lane. As an absolute priority, get everyone out of the car and well off to the side of the road. The car will offer almost no protection if another vehicle slams into yours at speed. Better for everyone to be 20 metres minimum off to the left of the road, behind a guard rail. Summon help using your mobile telephone, if possible, or walk to the nearest emergency breakdown telephone.


If you are passing a vehicle that has stopped in the breakdown lane, move into the right lane to increase the physical buffer space between your vehicle and theirs. Pay attention. Put both hands on the wheel. Lift off the accelerator and cover the brake pedal. Indicate as you change lanes. (You’d do all that automatically, wouldn’t you?) The point is, you don’t know what could happen as you pass that vehicle – there could be a child about to dart out, who you haven’t seen, or a frazzled driver dealing with a flat tyre and not paying attention to the danger he or she is in. Space equals safety on the freeway. You’d be amazed how many drivers whiz by at high speed and close to a stopped vehicle in the breakdown lane.


Kids have to use the bathroom at the most inopportune times. However, they (even the girls, at least metaphorically) can all tie a knot in it for the minute or two it takes to get to a designated emergency stopping bay. (In two minutes at freeway speeds, your car travels nearly four kilometres, and emergency stopping bays are very regularly spaced and accessible on modern freeways.) Never stop in the breakdown lane unless there is absolutely no alternative – toilet stops don’t qualify.


It is an excellent idea to equip yourself with a little gear to make breaking down a little safer. The total spend for this stuff is under $150, and it might just save your skin. It also fits in the smallest of boots.

You will need:

  • Two reflective, collapsible witches hats, or two fold-up reflective safety triangles. Place these 50 metres behind the vehicle if broken down.
  • One hi-visibility reflective vest. Get the kind with reflective tape sewn in for night visibility. Wear it whenever you’re outside the car to make sure other drivers can see you. Buy a really big one so you can slip it over a jacket in winter or wet weather.
  • One cheap LED head torch. These little beauties mightn’t exactly be the equivalent of haute couture. In fact they look downright dorky. Yet they are light, powerful, reliable and superbly practical. They’re powered by AA (or AAA) batteries and illuminate a bank of light-emitting diode globes, which consume very little electricity, so the batteries will last you a year or so. Result? You can work in the pitch dark, under the bonnet, under the car, or even just change a tyre, with a top-notch light source and both hands free