Is Running Out Of Fuel On A Motorway Illegal?

Many drivers think that it’s illegal to run out of fuel on a motorway. It isn’t. But you could still find yourself in trouble with the law…

Running Out of Fuel on the Motorway

Despite what some motorists may believe, it’s not actually illegal to run out of fuel on the motorway; although it certainly is in some countries. The Motorways Traffic (England and Wales) Regulations 1982 allows drivers to use a hard shoulder ‘by reason of a breakdown or mechanical defect or lack of fuel, oil or water, required for the vehicle’. That, naturally, includes running out of fuel.

The regulation continues that vehicles are ‘allowed to remain at rest on that hard shoulder in such a position only that no part of it or of the load carried thereby shall obstruct or be a cause of danger to vehicles using the carriageway’. That said, you may still find yourself in trouble should you come to a stop because you forgot to visit a petrol station.

Martin Langan, a solicitor, had this to say. He explained, “the regulations in relation to fuel state simply that stopping on the hard shoulder is permissible if you run out of fuel. There might, however, be a case for saying that where you knew you did not have enough fuel when you entered the motorway, then you are guilty of either driving without due care and attention or driving without reasonable consideration for other road users”.

He added, “certainly, if running out of fuel caused an accident due to your sudden slowing down or stopping on the motorway, you could not rely on running out of fuel as a defence to a charge of careless driving if you knew or ought to have known that you were low on fuel”.

‘Little Sympathy’ 

So, it’s not technically illegal to come to a stop because of a lack of fuel on a motorway. But, should you pose a hazard as a result, you could end up facing a charge for careless driving.

Neil Greig, IAM RoadSmart director of policy and research, has little time for motorists who forget to fuel up. He said, “we have very little sympathy for drivers who run out of fuel on the motorway”. He added, “there is no excuse for entering a motorway with low fuel or if you know something is wrong with your car. A breakdown puts you and your passengers at very high risk – many fatal crashes on a motorway involve a stationary vehicle”.

So, before setting off on a journey, make sure you have plenty of fuel in the tank. Don’t put yourself in a situation in which you could end up stranded or posing a danger to other road-users.

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