When travelling in the UK, I often see this sign when there are roadworks:


This results in a few questions:

  • What does this exactly mean and are there specific reasons when is used?

  • Where will you be recovered to?

  • Does this replace breakdown cover?

  • 15
    It means there's a courtesy service patrol that will tow your car for free to get it out of the congested area. One time, I pulled over in a wide shoulder area before a long bridge crossing. Service patrol showed up. I said "I stopped because I just realized I don't have enough gas to make it all the way across". He said "Well done, sir!" And gave me a gallon of gas. Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 3:56
  • @Harper: How long was that crossing that you would have time to realize you do not have enough fuel to make it across? Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 13:07
  • 4
    @MatthieuM. Possibly something like the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway in the US 24 miles long.en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Pontchartrain_Causeway
    – Sarriesfan
    Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 13:17
  • 1
    Not far off. @MatthieuM. about 13 miles, approaches included. Most of it 2 lane no shoulder, and the most congested crossing in the region. Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 17:54

2 Answers 2


The signs are shown in places where a broken down car would create traffic problems or danger. So people responsible for road traffic would rather pay out to take you to a safe place rather than you staying there. They would also rather pay out to take you to a safe place rather than you getting out of your car, trying to fix whatever problem you have, and getting hit by a car.

"Free recovery" will take your car to the nearest safe place, which can be reached safely by someone who can fix your car. Which is your responsibility, and which you pay for (unless you have some kind of insurance covering it).

  • 1
    "unless you have some kind of insurance covering it" in which case, of course, you're paying for (at least a part of) it; just indirectly.
    – user
    Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 9:14
  • What does this exactly mean and are there specific reasons when is used?

This is used under specific conditions listed below and it means you will be recovered to the end of the roadworks to avoid build up of traffic.

  • Where will you be recovered to?

The end of the roadworks.

  • Does this replace breakdown cover?

No, this does not and all motorists are advised to have breakdown cover.

The GOV website provides details on when/where this sign is used and what it means:

Free recovery

If a vehicle breaks down or is damaged during roadworks it can result in congestion, delays or even accidents. To make sure broken down vehicles are cleared quickly, Highways England arranges a free recovery service through roadworks on our network where one or more of the following applies:

  • the hard shoulder is being used as a running (“live”) lane
  • there is no direct access to the hard shoulder, lay-bys and emergency refuges
  • we have reduced carriageway lane widths
  • we have suspended use of the emergency telephones

This service moves vehicles that are broken down, damaged or abandoned to a nearby place of relative safety, for example the hard shoulder. Our free recovery service only operates within the limit of the works. Vehicles are not towed to your home or to a garage. You will be responsible for any further recovery.

Free recover does not replace break down cover. All motorists should be able to make their own recovery arrangements in the event of a breakdown or accident. We strongly advise that you have breakdown cover and carry details of this with you.

This does not replace breakdown cover.

  • 13
    In my experience (car had a blow out on the M6 in birmingham during roadworks) we were recovered to a random carpark (I think it was a truck stop). They didn't just leave us on the M6 after the road works as I guess that would of still been dangerous. Commented Sep 15, 2019 at 9:16
  • 3
    I am interested to know what you are supposed to do if there are currently no workers there, especially if they've disabled the telephones.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Sep 15, 2019 at 11:50
  • 5
    @OrangeDog The first thing you do is get yourself to a place of safety*, preferably over the crash barrier at the side of the road. You then call Highways England on your mobile; if you don't have one of those on you or are in a phone black spot, probably the CCTV operator will pick you up. Failing that, the areas are likely to be patrolled fairly well by Highlands Agency and/or the police. *If that isn't possible call police emergency immediately.
    – richardb
    Commented Sep 15, 2019 at 19:10
  • 3
    Here is the site for Scotland - trafficscotland.org/media/breakdownleaflet.pdf - if you can add the details for all the UK into your answer it'll make it fairly hard to beat. Commented Sep 15, 2019 at 21:58
  • 8
    @Hashim if they offer a free recovery service, they patrol constantly. That’s... the whole point - re-read the reasons listed above for this service? Patrolling once per day wouldn’t prevent congestion or further accidents. And there’s CCTV across large swathes of the motorway network (and some parts of the A road network): trafficcameras.uk/map (although admittedly not all).
    – Tim
    Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 0:21

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