Busy roundabout

How to spot gaps at busy roundabouts

Learner drivers often find it hard to spot opportunities to emerge at busy roundabouts. Even some experienced drivers will go out of their way to avoid roundabouts that think are’ difficult’ or ‘scary’!

But – as the video at the bottom of this page shows – if you know where to look, it’s easy!

  • By the way, if you’re unsure how to approach roundabouts or how to deal with mini roundabouts, click here.

The single most common mistake at a roundabout is only looking to your right as you approach, because that is where you expect traffic to come from. But what about the car ahead of you — can he see something that you can’t?

When to go at roundaboutsRoundabout tips 1. There is no definitive answer for when to go at a roundabout. Roundabouts require plenty of practice as the examiner will certainly be putting you through your paces during a driving test.

Whilst driving on roundabouts, gain familiarity with the angles that cars drive.

Yellow car: It may seem subtle in the diagram but the yellow car is clearly facing you as it rounds the circle. The yellow car is also keeping tighter to the inside than the orange car. This angle and position would suggest the yellow car is continuing round past your exit.
Orange car: The orange cars position is more to the outside of the circle and the angle of the car is facing his next exit suggesting that they will be taking their very next exit.

Learning to ‘read’ the position and angles of traffic on a roundabout will increase your ability for knowing when to go.

When to move off at a roundabout

The yellow car is waiting making it a good time to go


Roundabout tips 2. Another roundabout tip for when to go is what the other waiting vehicles are doing. Some roundabouts can have trees or bushes on and are difficult to see what is coming round.

Remember, everyone approaching a roundabout has to give way to the right. If the car is waiting to your right (the yellow car), this means that is giving way to a vehicle on the roundabout to his right. This is an ideal time to go.

Roundabout tips 3. Imagine that you are a pedestrian standing in the same spot that you are sitting in your car at the roundabout. As a pedestrian you want to run from this position to the centre circle. When you feel it would be safe to do this as a pedestrian, it will also be a safe time to move off in your car. This tip applies to town based single or double lane roundabouts and not large high-speed multi-lane roundabouts.

It is better to gather as much information as you can — start to check to your right, straight ahead, to your left, and all your mirrors as you approach the roundabout. By carrying out your observations in this sweeping/scanning motion, you are more likely to pick up if the car in front decides not to go for some reason.

The classic rear end shunt, caused by the driver ahead not going when you think he’s going, can thus be avoided.

Help yourself further by keeping a good gap between you and the vehicle waiting to get on, so if he changes his mind half way you have room to stop without compromising yourself.

Drivers often approach the roundabout with the plan to continue unless they have to stop because of other traffic. The problem here is that you may notice another car just as you get close to the roundabout, but you are more likely to speed up, opting to “take a chance” because it is difficult to change your mind at the last moment.

A slightly different, but very much more effective mental outlook is to approach the roundabout thinking “plan to stop but look to go”.

As you scan, remember you are looking for gaps, as well as vehicles.

And once you are on the roundabout, remember not everybody will position themselves correctly to get off: you could find somebody sweeping across you to get to their exit. Remember that the lorry or bus needs lots of room, and try not to be actually alongside it. On a mini roundabout, if you are approach at the same time as an oncoming vehicle, clearly indicate you intention and then do a visual check — try to catch the driver’s eye and send a message to avoid the ambiguous situation when nobody is quite sure who should go first.

Some useful information there — but the essential skill is planning ahead, which so few drivers appear to be able or willing to do…