Drivers warned of fines simply for stopping on the hard shoulder

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According to the Highway Code, drivers must not use a hard shoulder “except in an emergency or if directed to do so by the police, traffic officers or a traffic sign”. On so-called “smart motorways” – where the hard shoulder is sometimes used as an extra lane – the same applies for the emergency refuge areas you see positioned every 1.5 miles.

Improper use of the hard shoulder, or refuge area, could result in a £100 fine and three points on someone’s driving licence.

As a result of the uncertainty around the law, many experts are questioning whether fining drivers for stopping is suitable.

Graham Conway, Managing Director of Select Car Leasing, has called for better guidance from the Government on what actually constitutes an “emergency”.

He argues: “It’s clear that if your car breaks down, that’s a bona fide emergency that requires you to get to the relative safe haven of the hard shoulder.

“But when it comes to other ‘emergencies’, the guidance given in the Highway Code actually makes for something of a grey area.

“It’s clear that the hard shoulder should only be used as a ‘last resort’ – but I’d argue that this definition will differ from person to person and is open to interpretation.

“Some more clarity from the Department for Transport, I think, would be useful, particularly as smart motorways themselves can often be confusing to navigate.”

Mr Conway argues that stopping on the hard shoulder to make a phone call, or to use the toilet, is not considered an emergency in the eyes of the law and would likely see you hit with a fine and three points.

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Stopping on the hard shoulder for a “medical emergency” is, however, acceptable.

Rule 271 of the Highway Code states that drivers must not stop on any carriageway, emergency area, hard shoulder, slip road, central reservation or verge.

This is only allowed in an emergency, when told to do so by the police, traffic officers, an emergency sign or by red flashing light signals.

Motorists cannot stop on any part of a motorway to make or receive mobile telephone calls, except in an emergency.

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But Mr Conway adds: “We’re told not to pull onto the hard shoulder to either vomit or allow a passenger to be sick. 

“But for lots of people, that will be seen as a medical emergency that necessitates a hard shoulder stop.

“We’ve seen instances of police officers posting on motoring forums where they suggest that what does and doesn’t constitute improper use of the hard shoulder often comes down to the discretion of the attending officer.

“One person posting on a forum and who claimed to be a policeman said he’d actually helped a motorist who’d stopped on the hard shoulder when their child had projectile-vomited all over their car. Other officers might not see this as a genuine emergency.

“Again, some clarity on the issue would be helpful.”

There’s also confusion about whether or not it’s acceptable to change a flat tyre on the hard shoulder.

The Highway Code suggests drivers should “only change the tyre if you can do so without putting yourself or others at risk – otherwise, call a breakdown service”.

Institutions like the AA, however, say motorists should never change a tyre on a motorway hard shoulder, or at the side of the road.

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