Roundabouts – a complete guide

Roundabouts - a complete guide for learner drivers

Introduction

Roundabouts come in many sizes. They are simply circular junctions that are designed to allow traffic to keep moving. Basically, you should give way to traffic on the roundabout coming from your immediate right.

To begin with, they’re not easy to deal with and most learner drivers find approaching and navigating roundabouts a bit intimidating.

Sometimes the mere sight of a roundabout in the distance can cause a learner to think the end of the world is coming….not a simple give way junction. If that's you, don't worry, the article below offers some tips that will make managing even very busy roundabouts simple.

But a word of warning - stay away from roundabouts if your car control skills, (especially steering and clutch control) are lacking. Stay in quiet places until you can look and steer at the same time, you very rarely stall when moving away from junctions or traffic lights and can manage open and closed give way junctions without any help from your instructor.

How to approach roundabouts

Highway Code rule185 - roundabouts

Get this bit wrong and roundabouts are going to be difficult and nerve wracking.

If you approach too fast (a very common fault) or don't try to spot potential blockers while you're approaching the roundabout (and if you don't know what a 'blocker' is, watch the video a bit further down the page) one of two things is going to happen:

1) You will come to a halt even though you could have gone - what examiners call 'undue hesitation', a common reason for failing a driving test or

2) You will emerge onto the roundabout even though you should have waited - an even more serious and potentially dangerous fault.

Your driving instructor will give you all the help you need and I’m sure he or she will tell you that it’s really important to:

  • Approach roundabouts at the correct speed (not too fast, not too slowly), using MSPSL;
  • Get into the appropriate lane early - that's the left hand lane if you're turning left or going straight ahead unless traffic signs or road markings tell you otherwise. If you're turning right you should be in the right hand lane;
  • Don't just stare at the traffic coming from the right – scan all round the roundabout, not forgetting to spot your exit and make sure it’s clear.

To summarise, 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 and avoid running into the back of it.

You should also keep a gap between you and the vehicle waiting to get on, so if he changes his mind half way you have the room and the time to stop safely.

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. Get in the habit of looking for spaces behind the vehicles coming from your right.

How to spot the gaps and go!

Judging a safe moment to emerge onto a busy roundabout can be very difficult for someone who is learning to drive.

It takes experience and a degree of confidence to spot a gap and take your opportunity.

Over-thinking is common – ‘is that a gap?’…’I think it is’…’I should go’…too late! The gap has gone.

Safety, of course, is the number 1 priority and it’s much better to be a bit hesitant and stay safe than try to squeeze into tiny space in front of a 44 tonne lorry that’s coming from your right at 30mph!

Driving test examiners would rather you hesitated a bit than take any risk, no matter now small, but you should try not to hold up traffic behind you unnecessarily.

It often helps to stand at the side of a busy roundabout and watch the traffic for a few minutes. Try to work out where the cars are going. Ask yourself: is that car going straight on? Is that a safe gap?

Getting onto busy roundabouts takes a lot of practice so don't worry if you don't 'get it' straightaway. Your instructor will help you, as will this video:

While you're 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.

Also remember that lorries and other large vehicles needs a lot of room so don't get too close to them.

Lane discipline

If you're going left or straight on stay in the left hand lane unless traffic signs or road markings (such as arrows in the lane) tell you otherwise.

If you're turning right, you should be in the right hand lane on approach and close to the roundabout until you get level with the turning before yours. At this point it's time for a quick glance in your near side door mirror to make sure no-one is next to you. If there isn't, signal left, move left and take the exit.

If there is someone next to you and it wouldn't be safe to move left and take the exit, don't signal left. Stay close to the roundabout and take the next exit if it's safe to do so.

Summary

Despite what other learner drivers might tell you, roundabouts are not difficult junctions - unless you make them difficult by not approaching correctly, not knowing where to look (or what to look for) or straying out of the correct lane.

Get lots of practice with your driving instructor. Make sure your car control skills are up to scratch then start on quiet roundabouts at quiet times of the day. When you can do them more or less on your own, move onto busier roundabouts at busy times of the day.

Don't get put off if you find it hard to begin with. Like any other new skill, it will come with practice 🙂

Despite what other learner drivers might tell you, roundabouts are not difficult junctions - unless you make them difficult by not approaching correctly, not knowing where to look (or what to look for) or straying out of the correct lane.

Get lots of practice with your driving instructor. Make sure your car control skills are up to scratch then start on quiet roundabouts at quiet times of the day. When you can do them more or less on your own, move onto busier roundabouts at busy times of the day.

Don't get put off if you find it hard to begin with. Like any other new skill, it will come with practice 🙂

More resources

Tips for avoiding undue hesitation

1. It all begins with your approach. Slow down really early and look as early as you can into the road on your right, and across the roundabout itself.

By watching the traffic flow really early, you can sometimes manipulate yourself an opportunity to go, by timing your arrival at the roundabout when there is a gap. By practicing this you will find that you actually stop far less often.

2. If you do have to stop, ensure that your feet are ready to go; try to avoid just sitting with your foot on the brake. The longer it is going to take you to get moving, the bigger a gap you will need. Exactly how you set your feet will depend on whether the surface you are on is flat, uphill or downhill, but you can experiment with different situations.

3. Going on from number 2, practice moving off quickly. Park up somewhere in a quiet road, and when it is safe, see how quickly you can get moving. This will help give you the confidence to pull out into fast moving traffic at busy roundabouts.

4. While you are waiting to go, think about where you should be looking. Don't look AT the cars which are coming round, look beyond them to try to see the gaps. As mentioned previously, try to have your feet ready and anticipate the gap so that you are ready when it comes.

Look also for 'blocking' cars. If there are 10 cars coming from the right, and no gaps in sight, who is going to stop those cars? Who are THEY giving way to? It may be a car coming from straight ahead of you, or even from the road on your left, if it is turning right. Again, try to anticipate this happening and have your feet ready.

Most of all, just practice! These are all (hopefully) helpful tips, but the main thing is to keep practicing by doing lots of different roundabouts (different sizes/shapes etc).

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