A Driving Instructor's Blog

The blog article about How to do Roundabouts remains popular (and, judging from feedback I receive, very useful to many). One question which crops up again and again is to do with positioning on roundabouts. At the time I wrote this original article, it was being fuelled by nonsense from IAM, and and readily picked up by ADIs who have ideas above their station.The Highway Code roundabouts image

The Highway Code shows this picture (above) and the accompanying text says:

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 and on 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.

The underlining is mine, for emphasis. The Highway Code – both image and text – is crystal clear about staying in lane on roundabouts. It says nothing about ‘straight-lining’ or advanced (imagined or otherwise) police pursuit techniques. That’s because 99.9% of drivers shouldn’t be trying those things on normal British roads (and I include every single member of IAM in that 99.9%).

Then we come to Driving: The Essential Skills (TES, latest edition). This is effectively the syllabus that all driving instructors should be teaching in accordance with, with no exceptions that I can immediately think of. It says:

Procedure when entering/leaving a roundabout

Adopt the following procedure unless road signs or markings indicate otherwise.

Going left

  • Indicate left as you approach.
  • Approach in the left-hand lane.
  • Keep to that lane on the roundabout.
  • Maintain a left turn signal through the roundabout.

Going ahead

  • No signal necessary on approach.
  • Approach in the left-hand lane. If you can’t use the left-hand lane (because, for example, it’s blocked), use the lane next to it.
  • Keep to the selected lane on the roundabout.
  • Check your mirrors, especially the nearside exterior mirror.
  • Indicate left after you’ve passed the exit just before the one you intend to take.

Going right or full-circle

  • Indicate right as you approach.
  • Approach in the right-hand lane
  • Keep to that lane and maintain the signal on the roundabout.
  • Check your mirrors, especially the nearside exterior mirror.
  • Indicate left after you’ve passed the exit just before the one you intend to take.

Again, the underlining is mine, for emphasis. TES is also crystal clear about what is expected of drivers using roundabouts. It also uses the same image found in the Highway Code.

Even if you open a copy of ‘Roadcraft – The Police Driver’s Handbook’ you will not find any explicit recommendation that this procedure is to be ignored and replaced by ‘straight-lining’. It’s only when you start searching various ‘advanced driving’ forums (where people have names like ‘Super Scooby’ as tribute to the fact that they drive a Subaru pratmobile) that the concept of ‘straight-lining’ roundabouts rears its head. The general attitude of the average piston head-cum-IAM-member is basically this (my translation):

Straight-lining is not recommended by any authority, and you will not find it written down anywhere. The police recommend using lane discipline at all times except when on an emergency call. HOWEVER… because we class ourselves as advanced drivers, if WE feel it is safe to straight-line a roundabout then that’s perfectly OK.

Seriously, that is exactly what it boils down to. At the time I first wrote this, IAM was simply up to one of its periodic self-promotion exercises.

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Is it OK to straight-line a roundabout?

If there are marked lanes, you should use the marked lanes! You have absolutely no reason to do it any other way, since following the lanes will be the safest line through – that’s why they’re there. You have no need whatsoever to gain a fraction of a second advantage by ‘straight-lining’ as opposed to following the lanes. At best, you will manage to overtake a couple of other drivers who will then laugh at you when they catch up at the next set of lights. And the set after. And so on.

If the roundabout itself is unmarked, then you should use implied lane markings as suggested in the Highway Code diagram shown above. For example, if you have a two-lane dual carriageway feeding a roundabout – and there are no lane markings suggesting otherwise – then that implies that the roundabout also has two lanes. Implied markings extend to most roundabouts where two cars can proceed on to them at the same time, even if there is only a single marked lane on approach. It also applies to most of those which are wide enough to accommodate two cars side by side. The implied markings are governed by the widest feed road (i.e. it doesn’t matter if you’re entering from a single-track road, if the roundabout also has a six-lane dual carriageway feeding it, then it will have six lanes at some point!)

Will I fail my test if I straight-line a roundabout?

If it is clearly marked with lanes and you go careering across several or them and then back over again, yes. If a lane is clearly marked A60, for example, and another A52, if you attempt to take either the A60 or the A52 using the wrong lane you will be nailed for it. And you deserve to be.

If the lanes are implied then examiners often use a little common sense. Remember that learners and new drivers are, by definition, not experienced. For some, even driving in a straight line and checking their mirrors at the same time can be a major challenge, and although most learners are not quite that bad (though they do exist), they are far from being perfect drivers and their awareness skills are not fully formed. Therefore, if a learner on test doesn’t stay in lane – whether marked or implied – on a roundabout, almost without exception it is because they didn’t realise they were doing it and it is a serious error. This is especially true if there’s another road user there, and the examiners will mark it accordingly.

I have listened in on several test debriefs where someone has failed for doing precisely this, and the explanation has gone roughly as follows:

You approached the [implied markings] roundabout in the left-hand lane [of a two-lane dual carriageway]. As you moved on to it, you moved across towards the centre – which is OK – but you didn’t check your mirror to see if there was anyone coming up behind or in your blind spot. So that’s why I’ve had to fail you.

Personally, I hate this explanation, because it implies that the driver did it on purpose and just didn’t check. But I know they didn’t have a clue what he was talking about (I had to show one of them the dashcam footage on at least one occasion so they understood both where and what had happened). It was lazy positioning and no road markings – not intentional ‘straight-lining’.

It would be far simpler (and safer) just to learn to bloody stay in lane and keep out of harm’s way.

One final point. You might get away with lazy positioning once or twice if you’re lucky. Keep doing it and you will be marked down, because it is a fault.

Where can I read up on straight-lining?

You can’t – not unless you just want inaccurate and unofficial nonsense from middle-aged boy racers. The whole concept of ‘straight-lining’ is completely absent from any authoritative published material. DVSA expects good lane discipline on roundabouts.

I was taught to straight-line in the police/military

The only real purpose for ‘straight-lining’ is to gain advantage – either getting past someone, or saving fractions of a second. For the police on a call, that makes sense. I’m not convinced on the reasons for the military teaching it unless it, too, was for pursuit or reasons of timing (or possibly so the cargo doesn’t tip over). There is absolutely no reason for a normal driver (even if they are an ADI) doing it except to show off or be different.

I teach my pupils to straight-line if it’s safe

Then you’re not teaching them properly, because it isn’t what DVSA is expecting you to do. You are expected to teach them lane discipline, not some smart-arsed ideas from an online driving group that thinks it is ‘advanced’.

Learners (and new drivers) do not have the experience to be able to reliably check that it is safe to ‘straight-line’ and deal with everything else that might be going on. If they get it wrong when they’re out on their own it would be a disaster. Many of them can’t follow lanes because they don’t even know the lanes are there, and they should be taught how to do it properly first. When they’ve passed, it’s then up to them whether or not they turn into smart-arse know-it-alls, but they shouldn’t be taught to be smart-arse know-it-alls when they don’t even know the basics.

Straight-lining is an advanced driving skill that it is useful for learners to know

No it isn’t. It’s only an ‘advanced skill’ to a small number of anoraks, and apart from making the statement ‘look what a prat I am’ it serves absolutely no useful purpose for normal drivers. It is used to overtake where you shouldn’t, or to gain pointless milliseconds that are lost at the next set of traffic lights.

On a larger roundabout, your road position is likely to be misleading if you’re ‘straight-lining’, and that means others could enter it as you swerve back over. The police get away with it because they have a siren and flashing blue lights – and even they occasionally have accidents because of it.

Learners should be taught to slow down and check properly at roundabouts, not to take risks.

How would the examiner view straight-lining?

It depends on the examiner. In the example I gave above, they often seem to assume it was deliberate but without the mirror checks. However, I know full well that it was because they hadn’t got a clue that there were lane positions to follow. On the other hand, I am pretty certain that if the roundabout had clearly marked and signed lanes, attempting to ‘straight-line’ one of those is not going to be seen as a positive unless you got very, very lucky. In most cases, even if the pupil managed to get into the correct lane eventually, it would go down as a ‘road signs/road markings’ fault for not choosing the correct lane. But add ‘observations’ on top when they do it and a serious fault is almost guaranteed.

Just don’t do it.

Teaching pupils to stay in lane isn’t teaching them safe driving for life

I’m afraid that it is. Learners are not experienced – experience is something they have to gain for themselves after they pass their tests. They need to have the safest basic skills on which to build that experience, and learning how to stay in lane and avoid conflicts is one of the best examples of that. New drivers who ‘straight-line’ nearly always do so because they either don’t know how to stay in lane, or simply want to go faster than everyone else. Those who ‘straight-line’ are usually also speeding.

I am a ‘safe driver’. I’ve been driving my whole adult life. And I use good lane discipline. The only time I usually have to take any sort of evasive action is when other people don’t use good lane discipline.

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