If you should be unfortunate enough to suffer a breakdown or accident on the motorway, switch on your hazard lights and try to move your vehicle to the side of the road. Most motorways and expressways are provided with hard shoulders. It's even better if you can manage to reach a rest or service area.

Emergency refuges and telephones on the A40, near Saint-Cyr-sur-Menthon, France. Click to see full size image.

First of all, make sure you and any passengers put on a high-visability vest, then leave the vehicle by doors closest to the side of the road and stand behind the crash barrier. Place an emergency triangle 30m behind your vehicle.

Once everyone is safe, you'll need to use the nearest emergency telephone to alert the police, which are located every 2km along the side of the road. In the event that you've broken down in between telephones, markers are sited at frequent intervals directing towards the nearest one. They can also be found at rest areas and service areas.

Typical emergency telephone. Click to see full size image.

If you cannot get to an emergency telephone, then the best thing to do is call the police on 112 from your mobile. Likewise, if the nearest telephone is out of order, use your mobile phone (or proceed to the next telephone). Do not attempt to cross the motorway to reach the telephone opposite.

Don't call your breakdown company until after you have used the emergency telephone. The reason for this is because only designated recovery companies are permitted to attend motorway breakdowns and recover vehicles.

However, be aware that you will be charged a recovery fee which can be very high, although your breakdown company will refund this. Call them after you have used the emergency telephone to make them aware of the situation, as they will provide you with details on how to claim the money back.


What if I've been involved in an accident?

Just like if you suffer a breakdown, make sure you carry out the above before you call your insurer. If you are in a multi-vehicle accident, you will need to complete a European Accident form (constat amiable) there and then.

Regardless of who is to blame, do not leave the scene until the police arrive (unless they say otherwise), especially if anyone involved has been injured.

If you've got breakdown cover, make sure you let them know as they can help repatriate the vehicle back to your home country. You may find that your insurer can provide this, or be able to work with a local representative on your behalf.


Useful emergency numbers

112 will work in all circumstances and is the easiest number to remember. You can use this number instead of the dedicated local numbers for each service  (15 ambulance, 17 police, 18 fire).

For those who require a SMS alternative, 114 is the number to send text messages to.

Photos on this page are by Chabe01, and used under a Creative Commons 4.0 licence