There is a lot of confusion over roundabouts – with both learners and experienced drivers. Signalling, lane choice, and lane discipline seem to provide the biggest challenges for most drivers.
The Highway Code (HC) says this about roundabouts (Rule 186):
Signals and position.
When taking the first exit to the left, unless signs or markings indicate otherwise
- signal left and approach in the left-hand lane
- keep to the left on the roundabout and continue signalling left to leave
When taking an exit to the right or going full circle, unless signs or markings indicate otherwise
- signal right and approach in the right-hand lane
- keep to the right on the roundabout until you need to change lanes to exit the roundabout
- signal left after you have passed the exit before the one you want
When taking any intermediate exit, unless signs or markings indicate otherwise
- select the appropriate lane on approach to the roundabout
- you should not normally need to signal on approach
- stay in this lane until you need to alter course to exit the roundabout
- signal left after you have passed the exit before the one you want
When there are more than three lanes at the entrance to a roundabout, use the most appropriate lane on approach and through it.
Although this is quite clear, it doesn’t provide a single, all-encompassing rule that works for every roundabout and every situation. Therefore, many drivers continue to have problems whenever they encounter one.
Part of the problem is that you have marked and unmarked roundabouts – that is, you have roundabouts with marked lanes and those where the lanes are implied either by how many lanes lead into it, or how wide the feed roads are at the entry point.
Unmarked Roundabouts – Symmetrical
Let’s look at the easiest situation first of all – an unmarked symmetrical (or almost symmetrical) roundabout like the one shown here, which is wide enough to accommodate two cars. Indicating on approach is straightforward: you signal left if you’re going left (1st exit) and right if you’re going right (3rd exit or full circle). You do not signal for the straight ahead (2nd) exit.
As far as your road position goes you have to imagine the lanes and adopt the appropriate position. You should normally adopt the left hand position for the 1st and 2nd exits and remain in this position all the way round. You should adopt the right hand position on approach if you’re taking the 3rd exit or if you’re going full circle. In all cases you should signal left to leave the roundabout as you pass the exit before the one you require. In the case of turning right or going full circle you will also need to check your nearside mirror as you cut across the left hand “lane” to leave.
In some cases, when taking the 2nd exit it may be necessary to adopt the right hand position (if there is queuing traffic for the 1st exit, for example). However, this does not mean that you should always adopt that position even when there is no traffic. The normal position – unless signs, road markings, or trustworthy local knowledge say otherwise – is on the left when going ahead.
Unmarked Roundabouts – Asymmetrical
When a roundabout isn’t symmetrical you have to start applying a little bit of common sense and judgement, and deal with each one on its own merits. As I said earlier, there is no all-encompassing rule, and this is especially true with asymmetrical roundabouts like the one shown here.
Let’s get one thing out of the way right now: there is no such thing as “the 12 o’clock rule”. This was an attempt to create a single procedure that works for all roundabouts, but the problem with it is that it doesn’t work all the time, so it cannot be called “a rule” at all.
In general, your lane positioning and signalling on approach will be exactly the same as for the symmetrical roundabouts discussed above.
If the roundabout is as simple as it appears on this diagram then you might be tempted to signal right if you’re taking the 2nd exit. However, particularly if you’re in the left hand lane position on the roundabout, your signal could be confusing to other road users (in some cases, dangerously so). You might get away with it on smaller roundabouts which don’t have space for two cars, but on those where someone could legitimately sit alongside you to take the 3rd exit or go full circle you could easily cause confusion. This is why the HC says that you only normally need to signal for the first and last exits, and not the intermediate ones. It also illustrates clearly why the 12 o’clock rule simply doesn’t work.
Remember that your choice of lane or lane position is not automatic and depends on the individual roundabout.
Examples Of Unmarked Roundabouts
As I mentioned above, all roundabouts are different. These examples are from Nottingham in the areas where I teach. Some are on test routes and some aren’t. You can click the images to see the Google Maps link and explore the area in greater detail.
This first roundabout is a couple of hundred metres down the road from the (now, ex-) Chalfont Drive test centre and 99.9% of candidates used to have to negotiate it on their tests. The test centre was located on the road marked A, and you can see that as you approach the roundabout along that road the 2nd exit is dramatically to the right, and the 3rd exit is even further round.
The important thing here is that road A is not wide enough for two cars to sit side-by-side on entry to the roundabout. For that reason, I teach all of my pupils that they should signal right whether they are asked to take the 2nd or 3rd exits because no one behind can squeeze through at the same time. However, the other entry roads have two marked lanes on approach, and this implies that the roundabout itself is two lanes wide – so there is enough room for two cars to travel side-by-side (which often happens during rush hour). Therefore, I teach learners that if they are taking the 2nd exit (B) they should position themselves to the left at the red X and signal left immediately they pass the 1st exit. If taking the 3rd exit (or going full circle) they should position themselves to the right at X and signal left as they pass the 2nd exit (or 3rd if going full circle).
This second example is a mini-roundabout in West Bridgford, where the majority of traffic enters and leaves the roundabout via roads A and B – the “straight ahead” direction. The benefit and relevance of a signal varies significantly depending on which way you’re heading.
Travelling on road A and intending to leave via road B does not require a right signal – even though the exit is after the 12 o’clock position. Doing so would imply the intention to go full circle and double back the way it came, and so cause traffic travelling the opposite way to stop needlessly. Believe me, when someone does it and you’re coming the opposite way, it IS confusing because you can’t risk pulling out in case they are turning (which they occasionally do to avoid traffic).
However, when travelling on road B and intending to leave via road A, traffic coming the other way doesn’t know if you are likely to turn in front of it and enter the school road. In this case a left signal is necessary to inform them of your intentions. Again, I can assure you that it helps a lot when you’re travelling the opposite way and drivers signal. In fact, this applies to most three-exit roundabouts where you have a right turn available to you and there are no dedicated lanes.
Note: This next example is historical – the tram works have chewed it up as of early 2013.
This example is in Clifton and illustrates the principle I just mentioned. The road marked A and B is Farnborough Road. Approaching along A, exit B is at the 12 o’clock position and the “12 o’clock rule” would say that you shouldn’t indicate. But as I described above, traffic coming from B won’t know whether you are going to turn in front of it and a left signal clarifies that for them.
I must stress again that every roundabout is different and sometimes only experience can teach the best way of dealing with them. Just remember that the 12 o’clock rule is definitely not the answer you’re looking for if you have difficulty with them.
And therein lies the problem. With all of these examples many people don’t indicate at all, indicate incorrectly, forget to cancel, etc. because they haven’t got a clue how to deal with roundabouts properly in the first place. I see it with my pupils all the time – there are those for whom roundabouts are, and will always remain, something confusing that they should be afraid of. For that reason, never rely 100% on signals given on them.
You will hopefully notice from the examples I have given that by thinking about what you are doing you can decide whether to indicate or not. You will also (hopefully) notice that silly rules like the “12 o’clock rule” don’t work and are potentially dangerous to the kind of driver who is looking for a simple solution to a complex issue.
At the risk of repeating myself, there is no absolute way to deal with many roundabouts, and trying to make it so by applying flawed rules ahead of common sense is both silly and very dangerous.
Roundabouts which don’t have markings are usually small enough for you to see which exit you need in advance – looking and planning ahead is vital when negotiating them.
Many roundabouts have road markings to define lanes and show routes, and these type tend to be larger than the unmarked ones. They also often have multiple intermediate exits. You’ll sometimes see them described as gyratory or spiral roundabouts. These are the ones that people seem to have the most trouble with although they’re actually very easy once you know what you’re doing.
I’ve written a separate article about the Nuthall roundabout as a further illustration of how the 12 o’clock rule doesn’t work reliably.
This particular roundabout is big, and the island itself is raised and covered in trees which makes it difficult to see in advance where you are going. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t plan ahead – you just have to look for and use the road markings.
The picture on the left shows the markings as you approach it along the A6002 heading towards the city centre. The A6002 is a single lane, but at the roundabout it splits into four lanes. It is important to know where you are going and to get into the correct lane straight away – or rather, not to leave it too late to get into the correct lane. For example, if you know you want to exit along the A610 towards Nottingham, then you should ideally go straight into the right hand lane which has the “A610” route marked in it. Failing that, you will need to move safely into that lane – this is much more risky because there will likely be other traffic already moving in behind you, and absolutely the worst thing you can do is end up in one of the “M1” lanes and then try to get over, because that will mean moving across at least two lanes of other traffic and shows that you didn’t plan ahead properly. Many drivers out there do it wrong all the time, but they aren’t on their tests and all they do is annoy other drivers (and sometimes have or cause accidents) as a result.
Once you’re in the correct approach lane it is vital to stay in that lane on the roundabout, and to only change lanes when there is a choice available to you. Technically, you can get it totally wrong and still move across several lanes on the roundabout to correct yourself as long as you do it safely. However, the fact that you did get it wrong in the first place strongly suggests that you’re not going to be able to do it safely (in any case, much depends on other drivers).
Once you move on to the roundabout you need to keep to the right of the dashed line on your left. By looking ahead you will be able to see further road markings showing which lane(s) you can use for your chosen route. If there are two or more then you should choose the left one unless you really know what you are doing (and to begin with, you won’t, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this). Again, move into position early to avoid having others move in behind you.
Staying In Lane
I find that a lot of my learners have a major problem – at least initially – staying in lane, and this seems to stem from not actually seeing the lanes as they drive along.
If you look at the diagram on the left you can see a single lane represented as though you were looking at it out of the front of the car. This is how you would be able to see your lane if you chose one of the four lanes as you approached the Nuthall roundabout discussed above.
There are various ways of visualising this. One method is to imagine that the white lines and/or the kerb form the rails of tram or railway lines, and it is the driver’s task to remain inside them and not to go “off the rails”.
Another is to think in terms of perspective – like you might use when drawing or painting a picture – where the lines go off into the distance and eventually meet at some point on the horizon.
Both of these visualisations still apply even if the lane is curved or has bends in it.
Talking to my learners, one of the comments many of them make is that they get confused “by all those lines crossing over each other”. That’s where it becomes important to see through the clutter and stay focused on your lane as shown above.
These additional lanes are nothing to do with us as the driver – they are for other drivers entering the roundabout from other roads. We need to stay focused on our “tramlines”.
It’s also important for the learner to understand that on roundabouts you will not be expected to make sharp turns, so these crossing lanes become less of a worry. If the lane you are in branches into other lanes then you would simply follow the appropriate branching set of lines.
For some years now I have often asked pupils how stressed they are when we are driving. What I do is establish with them that if they were sitting at home watching TV, their internal stress-o-meter would be reading around 0. On the other hand, if they had just jumped out of an aeroplane with a parachute that was packed by someone they’d had a big argument with last night, the stress-o-meter would be reading 100. It’s amazing what answers you get when you ask them what they think their reading is in certain situations. Some will answer “70 or 80” just by sitting in the car, and that’s a real eye-opener! But in the case of roundabouts the reasons for not being able to see the lanes will often become clear.
Are roundabouts classed as junctions?
Obviously, any point where two or more roads meet or cross is a junction. So, yes.
However, if you’re thinking in terms of subjects to cover on lessons and possibly even Check Tests, then roundabouts, crossroads, and normal junctions with left and right are different things.
What are the signalling rules at roundabouts?
Read HC Rule 186 (quoted above). You normally signal left or right on approach only for the first or last exits. Intermediate exits normally don’t need an approach signal.
When leaving the roundabout every exit is a left turn, so you normally indicate left at the exit before the one you want.
As I explained above, there are some roundabouts where indicating for intermediate or straight ahead exits makes sense, and some where it doesn’t. You will have to decide for yourself.
There are also situations where indicating to exit isn’t absolutely necessary. For example, if you are in the left-hand lane of two or more marked lanes heading off at the same exit.
If you are on test, be careful about choosing not to indicate in such situations. I would advise you to signal to exit on roundabouts even if it isn’t strictly necessary. The examiners often expect to see it, and if you don’t do it then it is possible some of them may decide you have forgotten rather than chosen not to.
What is the Highway Code 12 o’clock rule?
There isn’t one! This is a nonsense idea which even some ADIs still cling to as if it really exists! It doesn’t, and it never did. The HC says that on approach you should indicate left for the first and right for the last (or full circle) exits, but that you shouldn’t normally need to indicate for any intermediate one.
There are some roundabouts where the intermediate exit you want after the left turn is so far to the right that a signal might benefit other drivers, but there are other situations where it would definitely confuse them. Look at the first example I gave, above.
If you decide to use a signal make sure that your road position matches your intentions in such cases.
Should I indicate to go straight ahead on a 3-exit roundabout?
Look at this mini-roundabout (it’s the second example I gave, above). The main road is A to B, and C is a smaller road leading to a school.
If you are travelling towards the roundabout along road A, going left on to road C would obviously need a left signal. However, if your intention was to take B a signal would be confusing to others coming the opposite way.
Signalling right when going A to B would suggest to drivers at B that you are going full circle and therefore crossing in front of them. This would force them to stop and wait for you. So in this case, you do not signal to go straight ahead.
Signalling left when going B to A is a different matter. Drivers at A will not know for certain if you intend to turn right across them or go straight ahead, and they will have to wait. A left signal is a positive indication that you are not crossing them. In this case, a left signal is helpful to other drivers.
So there’s your answer. If your signal helps someone and doesn’t confuse them then it is a good idea to use it. At the risk of creating a “rule”, what I’ve explained here is useful for most three-exit roundabouts. Often, you can watch what others do and ask yourself if they’ve helped or confused you by signalling or not signalling, and use that to develop your own strategy in future. Don’t be afraid or ashamed of changing the way you do things as you learn.
But you’re only supposed to signal if you’re changing direction, aren’t you?
Nonsense. This question derives from the idea that by going straight ahead on a roundabout you’re not “changing direction”. Driving: The Essential Skills (TES) – the official DSA guide – says:
- to let others know what you intend to do
- to help other road users, including pedestrians
- in good time and for long enough to allow other road users to see the signal and act upon it
In the scenario I used in the previous question. if other road users aren’t sure of your intentions then using your indicators makes perfect sense. It is helping other road users.
Should I always indicate to go straight ahead?
NO!!! You still see older drivers who actually indicate right when they’re going straight ahead and it is extremely confusing if you’re coming the opposite way. I think it’s a combination of how they were taught, and their own attempts to simplify roundabouts and handle them all in exactly the same way. It probably explains why such drivers are usually weaving all over the place or in the wrong lane!
Think about the individual situation and do what makes sense for it. Sometimes you will signal, but other times it is pointless. There is no “one size fits all” solution and it is wrong to try and teach people that there is.
But you shouldn’t rely on people’s signals, should you?
No. And that’s because they often don’t signal or just leave them on from a previous manoeuvre. Giving a positive signal at the right time helps people. The fact that you shouldn’t rely on other people’s signals doesn’t mean you should stop giving the correct ones yourself.
Isn’t this Highway Code roundabout diagram wrong?
No. This question arises periodically on forums from people trying to pick fault with the HC. Note how the green car turning right is shown exiting in the right hand lane – even though the arrows clearly show that it can exit in either the left or the right lane.
This is absolutely correct, particularly in view of the fact that every entry road has two lanes marked on it, implying that the roundabout itself has two lanes on it.
If you were in the green car turning right on this particular roundabout there is the very real possibility of a car emerging from either of the 1st or 2nd exits and driving alongside you to take the same exit. That car would occupy the left hand lane position and you’d have to stay right until you could merge safely further along.
It would be perfectly acceptable for you (as the green car) to exit by crossing into the left hand lane as long as you had checked that it was safe and that no one was sitting in your left blind spot. But being brutally honest, most learners have got enough to think about when negotiating roundabouts without adding extra safety checks to the list.
A good example is the Virgin Roundabout on many of the Colwick test routes in Nottingham. The main road has a two-lane dual carriageway feeding in one side and a two-to-one lane merge on the other. Two single lane roads also feed it, one of which leads to an industrial area which can be used for test manoeuvres.
It is a tricky obstacle. The dual carriageway and two-to-one merge imply that there are two lanes on it, but it is small, narrow, and very busy meaning that good lane discipline is vital. It is a common cause of test failure if the candidate impinges on the other lane without checking their mirrors.
Exiting the industrial area (shown at the bottom of the picture on the left) to turn right at the roundabout means that the driver is moving from a single lane zone into a two-lane one. The photograph below shows this as red and yellow dots.
Since you’re turning right, you’ll move straight into the right hand lane position on the roundabout itself and you can exit in either the left or right lanes. However, during the day the road is so busy that it would be foolish to try and move across into the left lane of the exit road unless you really knew what you were doing. The safest thing to do is exactly what the green car is doing in the HC diagram and stay in the right hand lane on exit, accelerate away smoothly, and merge safely as the two lanes become one.
But the “12 o’clock rule” works.
Something only “works” if it is never wrong. The problem is that roundabouts are not built with the “12 o’clock rule” in mind or with the intention of being geometrically perfect. For that reason, a three-exit roundabout could easily have the “ahead” exit after the 12 o’clock position and signalling becomes confusing in many cases (as explained previously)
The “12 o’clock rule” does not work all the time, and if you’re an ADI using it who believes it does then you need to take a serious look at what you are teaching people. The chances are that you are being led by your dogmatic belief that the “12 o’clock rule” is infallible, and cannot see the potential effect it has on other road users or your learners once they pass their tests.
Do you always position left for going straight ahead?
No. It depends on the roundabout and the situation. This question was prompted by a reader concerning a test route example in Gloucester.
As you can see, it has five roads leading into it. The test route involves approaching from the road at the bottom and taking the third exit (3). The reader pointed out that the roundabout is completely unmarked and unsigned. So which lane should you use for the third exit?
Looking at the photo – and with the benefit of hindsight – I’d probably use the left hand lane position on approach for the first and second exits, and the right hand lane position for the third, last, and full circle exits. The reader points out that that’s what the examiners expect.
However, someone new to the area encountering that roundabout for the first time could easily attempt the third exit in the left hand approach lane. This clearly shows the importance of local knowledge, and further demonstrates why pupils really do need to be taught specific sections of test routes. There is no way most learners could handle features like this (no signs or markings) if they encounter them for the first time on test.
Finally, I would not signal for the 3rd exit. Doing so would tell people waiting at the 1st and 2nd exits that you were not exiting via the 3rd one, and they could therefore pull on to the roundabout, which is wide enough for two cars.
Do you always position right if you’re taking the 3rd exit or turning right?
No. Usually, you will, of course – but there are roundabouts where the left lane can have double- or even triple-headed arrows painted in it. However, if the roundabout is unmarked on approach or has no marked lanes then it is most likely you will use the default roundabout procedure unless local knowledge says otherwise.
What do roundabout exit numbers mean?
This is just a way for you to know where you’re going when you are being given directions. If your instructor (or satnav) says to take the first exit, it means that when you reach the roundabout you leave it by the first available exit road. If you’re told to take the second exit, then you go past the first exit and then leave by the next one.
As a learner (or someone who doesn’t know where they are going other than where they want to be at the end of their journey) it enables you to take the correct route to your destination. You will need to count the exits as you negotiate the roundabout otherwise the whole exercise is pointless and you’ll mess up. By doing so, you can change your lane position at the correct time to avoid crossing the paths of others.
Don’t try and turn it into something complicated. It really is as simple as counting the exits.
If the third exit is before 12 o’clock where do you position yourself in a roundabout?
There is no set answer. There is no such thing as the “12 o’clock rule”, so this has nothing to do with it. As a guide, if you’re going straight ahead or left you usually position yourself to the left. If you’re going right or full circle you position to the right.
“Straight ahead” doesn’t automatically mean the 2nd exit – it means any exit which Isn’t left or right. In the Gloucester example above, in that particular case you use the left lane for the 2nd exit and the right lane for the 3rd exit. This is enough to make some people think that the “12 o’clock rule” works for positioning. Well, maybe it does for this one, but there are ones where it doesn’t.
If you are thinking of a particular roundabout near you being handled in a way you don’t expect, whatever you have to do is likely to be specific to that roundabout – it is local knowledge, not a “rule”.
Road markings or other local factors (like queuing traffic for car parks or how large/busy the intermediate exits are) influence how roundabouts work and how they are handled.
Where do you position yourself if the 2nd exit is after 12 o’clock?
Remember again that there no such thing as the “12 o’clock rule” so the answer to this is exactly what the Highway Code says: use the appropriate lane (and that includes positioning accordingly if there are no marked lanes).
All roundabouts are different. I’ve given one example above (near the Chalfont Drive test centre) where the 2nd exit is considerably after the 12 o’clock position. I teach my pupils to indicate right for both 2nd and 3rd on this one, but to position left for the 2nd and position right for the 3rd.
Various things that should be considered on other roundabouts include:
- how many exits are there?
- are the exits main roads or perhaps entrances to car parks and so on?
- how heavy is the traffic?
- does the time of day affect traffic queues on it?
- are there signs or markings to tell you which lane to use?
- what effect have you had on other drivers in the past?
- what do other people do, and what effect do they have on others?
There are plenty more, I’m sure. Be careful of that last one – never copy other people blindly, but be aware of how the locals use the roundabout. If someone misleads you by signalling or not signalling, or by positioning in the wrong place, learn from that and use it to decide how you should handle the roundabout in future.
If anyone has a particular roundabout in mind, feel free to send a Google link via the Contact Form. Please note that when sending Google links, you cannot just copy the link from your address bar – you have to get it from the little chain icon on the Google Maps page.
Why do other people signal if it’s wrong?
In my experience, the majority (or, at least, a huge minority) simply don’t know how to do it right. In some cases you even see learners on lessons doing it wrong, no doubt because they’re being taught the “12 o’clock rule” (take a look at this additional article about the Nuthall Roundabout in Nottingham (on the now-closed Chalfont Drive test centre route list, but still on the new Beeston one)).
This is also a good reason why you should never make a decision to go – on a roundabout or anywhere else – based on signals alone.
What am I supposed to be checking for in my left mirror?
When you leave a roundabout, and particularly when you are turning right and are in the lane closest to the island, you will have to move back into the left lane in order to take your exit. Someone else might be in that lane, so a mirror check (and possibly a quick sideways glance, though not a full blind spot check) should be done to make sure it’s safe. It is quite possible to fail your driving test if you don’t do this properly and someone is next to you.
What do I do if I’m leaving a roundabout and there is traffic on my nearside?
Well, obviously you don’t want to end up colliding with the other traffic, so there’s your starting point. That leaves you with the choice of either slowing down slightly to give way to them, or continuing confidently and allowing them to give way to you. Deciding which option is best requires good observation and assessment of the situation, and you must not just cut across without checking first otherwise you could make contact. Don’t slam on your brakes (except in an emergency), because slowing down too much will just encourage more people to overtake on the left and could result in those behind running into you.
If there are two lanes to exit by then there shouldn’t be a problem – just stay in your lane. With many roundabouts, even if the exit road is only a single lane, the mouth will be wide enough for two cars in order to allow merging. However, if the exit road is not wide enough for two cars then extra care is needed.
Make sure that you use good lane discipline when you are negotiating roundabouts. I stress again: stay in lane. Weaving across lanes – or being in the wrong one in the first place – means that people might end up on your nearside when they wouldn’t have been if you’d have done it right. Learn from your mistakes and do it right next time.
What is “local knowledge”?
Sometimes, the way to handle a particular road layout or roundabout is dictated by the way the locals do it in the absence of road markings. If you are also local or know the road well, then you become a part of this “local knowledge”.
You cannot safely use local knowledge on junctions you aren’t familiar with. In most cases, the proper way of doing it should be adopted.
How would an ADI teach roundabouts on a Check Test?
An interesting question. The simple answer is that the lesson you give on a Check Test (CT) should be the normal one you’d give the pupil if it was their next ordinary lesson – because you should conduct an ordinary lesson when on your CT. Of course, if you’re doing role play then you’re at the mercy of the examiner.
The purpose of the CT is for the examiner to see that learning has taken place and that you are giving the correct information to your pupil. It isn’t a performance you have to give, nor are you going to demonstrate your fault identification and remedial teaching very well if you plan on spending 20 minutes looking at diagrams and giving “briefings”, no matter how many questions you ask or how many coats of “coaching” you brush on.
Precisely how you’d cover roundabouts therefore depends on the pupil you’re taking with you. Have you covered the basics with them previously? What aspect of roundabouts are they struggling with? Are they pretty much OK with them in the first place? If it’s a role play exercise, you’ll have to pick this information up as you go along. Beyond that, as long as you know how they should be negotiating roundabouts, and you know how to identify and fix any problems which crop up, there’s nothing special to look for. After all, a roundabout is only a form of junction.
So, to answer that question: there is no specific way of teaching roundabouts. Just make sure the correct information is given to your pupil.