Right Driver

What should you do if your lorry breaks down?

Every lorry driver will eventually experience a breakdown, flat tyre or crash that causes them to have to stop and wait for assistance. For this reason, lorry drivers must have a safety plan to ensure that they and other road users are not put in harm’s way. While our road network is generally very good with laybys and hard shoulders, on rural roads a lorry may be forced to stop in an awkward place. Having a system that the driver can identify, assess and control risks is very important.

Getting the vehicle off the road

Signal where you want to go. It’s preferable to pull over to the left, but if there is nowhere suitable to stop, and you spot a place on the right that you can access without causing a danger to oncoming traffic, go to the right. The best type of location is level, hard ground. The worst type is sloping soft ground that could give way and cause your lorry to roll over or get stuck. If you can limp along to an emergency telephone or a layby, that’s the best option.

If it was impossible to change lanes and you end up stranded in a lane, put your hazard warning lights on immediately.

Ensuring you are visible and safe

Put your hazard warning lights on and get out of the lorry the opposite side to the traffic. If you are carrying any animals in your vehicle, it’s advised to leave them in there unless they will suffer undue stress due to heat. You should be wearing a high-visibility vest that’s preferably a contrasting colour to your lorry’s livery.

Use hazard warning triangles at least 45m behind your lorry and, if you are on a blind corner, one ahead of it, too. Chock your wheels if you are on a slope.

Don’t use warning triangles on motorway hard shoulders. At night you will need a torch.

Don’t attempt repairs yourself unless you are authorised by your employer, you have the right tools, you can do it safely in the space you have and you are qualified to do it.

Calling for help

If you are on a motorway you can use emergency telephones which are situated every mile or so. Arrows on the back of the posts on the hard shoulder point to the nearest phone; walk down the verge so you are away from the traffic. These are better than using a mobile phone as the operator will get an exact fix on your location based on the phone’s ID. Face traffic when you speak on the phone – if another vehicle has an incident due to rubbernecking your vehicle, you’ll see it coming.

However, if it’s an emergency and you have a very good idea about where you are, call 999.

You must also call for help if you have dropped anything from your lorry on a motorway; you must not try to retrieve it yourself.

If you are on an A or B road use your mobile phone to call for assistance to your nominated tyre repair, mechanical engineer or vehicle recovery supplier (you should have phone numbers for these services readily available in the cab). If your company has instructed you to inform them first, call them to have it sorted out. If you have left anything on the road that you can’t move, or if there is fluid on the road that could be dangerous to motorists (particularly motorcyclists), you must inform the authorities. If it’s an A road or motorway in England or Wales it is likely to be Highways England or use the government’s spillage reporting website.

Protecting your load

It’s best not to leave your lorry unless absolutely necessary. If you have to leave your lorry, ensure that the load is secure. If you are carrying livestock, you will need a backup plan if the weather or availability of food and water are an issue. If you are carrying dangerous goods, ensure they are safe. If you are carrying chilled goods and your chiller has stopped working, or you are driving a cement mixer or carrying other goods that will perish you will need to assess the likelihood of the consignment being ruined. In all cases, your dispatcher or you should inform the client of the delay so that they can alter their arrangements for dealing with the goods you are delivering or picking up.

Highway Code advice

If your vehicle breaks down, think first of all other road users and

  • get your vehicle off the road if possible
  • warn other traffic by using your hazard warning lights if your vehicle is causing an obstruction
  • help other road users see you by wearing light-coloured or fluorescent clothing in daylight and reflective clothing at night or in poor visibility
  • put a warning triangle on the road at least 45 metres (147 feet) behind your broken-down vehicle on the same side of the road, or use other permitted warning devices if you have them. Always take great care when placing or retrieving them, but never use them on motorways
  • if possible, keep your sidelights on if it is dark or visibility is poor
  • do not stand (or let anybody else stand) between your vehicle and oncoming traffic
  • at night or in poor visibility do not stand where you will prevent other road users seeing your lights

Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.

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