Contrary to popular belief, it’s not illegal to run out of fuel on a motorway. However, there are many reasons why you should avoid running out of petrol or diesel.
The Motorways Traffic (England and Wales) Regulations 1982 permits stopping on the hard shoulder ‘by reason of a breakdown or mechanical defect or lack of fuel, oil or water, required for the vehicle’.
It goes on to say that a vehicle should be ‘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’.
Crucially, stopping on the hard shoulder is permitted only if the emergency arose after entering the motorway. So is it illegal to enter a motorway with insufficient fuel? Solicitor Martin Langan says not, but the situation is far from clear.
“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.
“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.”
The risks are ‘huge’
This is an important point. It means that, while running out of fuel on a motorway isn’t illegal, there could be implications if it risks the safety of you, your passengers and fellow road users. The fixed penalty for careless driving is £100 with three points on the driver’s licence.
In 2017, a motorist was fined for running out of fuel and stopping on the M1 motorway. A spokesperson for Derbyshire Police said: “Motorways are obviously high-volume, high-speed roads and the risks posed by coming to an avoidable stop are huge.
“Luckily there were no injuries, but the potential for a serious collision was clear.”
‘Very little sympathy’
The most serious examples will go to court, where offenders may face higher penalties. A court can issue an unlimited fine and put nine points on a licence, but the fine is unlikely to exceed £5,000. Last year, a driver of a Ford S-Max was fined £2,000 when he ran out of fuel on the M62 near the Eccles Interchange.
Neil Greig, IAM RoadSmart director of policy and research, said: “We have very little sympathy for drivers who run out of fuel on the motorway.
“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.”
The message is simple. While it’s not an offence to run out of fuel on a motorway, you could be charged if doing so results in a collision. Make sure you fill up before entering a motorway.