Can You Leave a Broken Down Car Unattended in the UK?

Jack Dreyer | Tuesday 15th August 2023 1:30pm

A car abandoned on a road with the bonnet up in front of a mountain.

When it comes to vehicle breakdown, it’s safe to say there’s never an entirely ‘convenient’ time. When our vehicles fail us, we don’t get to choose where — and we certainly can’t predict when, making it a costly, troublesome inconvenience at the best of times.

So, what happens if your car was to give up on you while you were driving along a busy road? Could you leave it there?

Let’s break it down, shall we? (Pun intended).

Breaking down (and) the law

Whatever the reason for the breakdown, the Highway Code has a series of rules and regulations that drivers must adhere to — for their safety and the welfare of other road users. These describe the code of conduct for leaving your vehicle and breaking down safely. We’ll run you through these now.

Rule 275: Place of relative safety

In the event of a breakdown or a road incident that requires you to stop your vehicle, you should always do so in a place of ‘relative safety’. This is defined as a place where you and your passengers (and the vehicle) are at the least risk of harm from moving traffic.

The safest place, ideally, would be a carpark or at a service station. However, this isn’t always achievable – so other safe places to stop your vehicle include:

  • Lay-bys
  • Emergency areas
  • Hard shoulders

Once your vehicle has come to a stop, make sure that you and your passengers exit the vehicle safely and stand a good distance away – preferably behind a barrier.

Rule 276: Breakdown best practices

This rule is more of a list of best practices when it comes to leaving your vehicle in the event of a breakdown or an emergency. We’ve summarised the core points below but the main point of emphasis always falls on ‘think of other road users’.

In the event of a breakdown, you should:

  1. Get your vehicle off the road if this is possible.
  2. Use your hazard lights to warn other users that your vehicle is causing an obstruction. Keep your side lights on if possible.
  3. When exiting the vehicle, maximise your visibility to other road users by wearing high vis or fluorescent clothing.
  4. Place a warning triangle at least 45 metres away from the rear of your car. Do this carefully, but never use them on motorways.
  5. Move behind a barrier or away from your vehicle. Do not stand between your vehicle and oncoming traffic.

Find out more about what to do if you break down on the motorway here.

While the above advice from the Highway Code does well to prioritise road user safety and offer immediate guidance, what about in the long term? Once the dust has settled and you need to leave your vehicle, can you?

A person wearing a high-vis jacket has placed a warning triangle in front of their car.

Can you leave your broken down car unattended?

In the event of a breakdown, you should call for assistance from a vehicle recovery company to come and tow your vehicle to safety. But what about if, for one reason or another, you can’t do this?

Breaking down on private property

If your vehicle packs up on private property, such as your garage, driveaway, or land, this isn’t a problem. You can keep it there as long as you like. If someone else owns the land, though, you will need to obtain permission from the landowner. If you fail to do this and leave your vehicle unattended, the landowner could report your vehicle to the authorities as this can be classed as trespassing.

Breaking down on public property

If breaking down on public land (main roads, streets, etc), you should not leave it there for an extended period of time. Leaving a vehicle unattended in a hazardous place – like the roadside – is very irresponsible and can endanger the lives of other road users.

Any type of stationary road hazard — debris, car, or otherwise — increases the chance of road accidents sevenfold. Leaving your car to become a hazard on the side of the road may distract other drivers, causing accidents.

Are you breaking the law?

Technically, however, leaving your vehicle in a public place is not actually illegal if:

  • Your car is taxed
  • Your car is insured
  • You are in a zone where stopping is permitted
  • There are no parking restrictions

The risks of leaving your car unattended

That being said, if you leave your broken down car unattended for an extended period of time, you leave it vulnerable to a number of things, depending on how long you leave it for and where you leave it.

1. Unwanted attention

If your vehicle is left in an unsafe place for long periods of time, there is a chance that it may become the target of vandalism, theft, or other crimes. If your vehicle is seen to be abandoned, opportunistic criminals may take this as a sign of an easy target, breaking in or causing damage.

A thief breaks into an unattended car.

2. Prosecution

If your car is causing a hazard, in an awkward place or, again, has been left for too long, it may be reported to local authorities and further action may be taken. This can range from notices to towing to impoundment or fines, depending on how severe the abandonment is deemed to be.

3. Further damage

Perhaps the worst-case scenario is that your abandoned vehicle is involved in — or the cause of — an accident or collision with another vehicle, causing casualties and further damage if left at the side of the road.

Minimise the risk of breakdown

Taking into consideration all the risks and hassle involved, it’s safe to say that breakdowns and leaving vehicles unattended are to be avoided at all costs. One of the most effective ways to avoid breakdown? By getting regular servicing for your vehicle at Kwik Fit.

Book in for a service or any one of our free vehicle safety checks at your local Kwik Fit and keep your car up and running for as long as possible.

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