A Driving Instructor's Blog

A lot of drivers get confused by roundabouts, and I’m not just talking about learners. Signalling, lane choice, and lane discipline seem to provide huge challenges for many people.

The Highway Code (HC) says this about roundabouts:

Rule 185

When reaching the roundabout you should

  • give priority to traffic approaching from your right, unless directed otherwise by signs, road markings or traffic lights
  • check whether road markings allow you to enter the roundabout without giving way. If so, proceed, but still look to the right before joining
  • watch out for all other road users already on the roundabout; be aware they may not be signalling correctly or at all
  • look forward before moving off to make sure traffic in front has moved off.

    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.

  • This is very straightforward. However, many drivers continue to have trouble whenever they encounter them because there are big roundabouts and little roundabouts; there are roundabouts with marked lanes, and ones where the lanes are implied by how many cars can feed into them at once; there are roundabouts with wide lanes, and roundabouts with narrow lanes; there are roundabouts with clear markings, and others where the markings are worn away; some roundabouts can have as few as two roads joining them, whereas others can have five, six, or even more feed roads; there are single roundabouts, or multiple roundabouts placed close together. And so it continues.

    The bottom line, though, is that although every roundabout is different and there is no single “golden rule” which governs how you negotiate them, almost every individual roundabout works according to what the HC says in Rules 185 and 186.

    Let’s look at simple, unmarked roundabouts first of all.

    Unmarked Roundabouts – Symmetrical

    The simplest type is an unmarked and virtually symmetrical roundabout like the one shown here, which is NOT wide enough to accommodate two cars as they pass around it. Symmetrical Roundabout sign

    Approaching it, 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.

    When you reach the roundabout, once you can see it is safe to proceed you simply drive on to it and signal left at the exit before the one you intend to leave by. Your position as you drive around the roundabout is not really important if it is only wide enough for one car.

    Slightly more complex is the same roundabout layout, but in which the road is wide enough to accommodate two cars side by side, and in which the feed roads are wide enough to potentially allow two to enter it at the same time. Until you have to deal with the big multi-lane roundabouts, this type is probably the most common. You often find them in housing estates and on quieter roads. Since there are no lane markings, you have to maintain lane discipline using your own judgement and common sense. On approach, you signal the same way you would in the example described above – 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. You indicate left at the exit just before the one you plan to take.

    Applying lane discipline is where most drivers have problems, even on marked roundabouts. You have to imagine the lanes and use the appropriate one. For a symmetrical roundabout – with no road markings on the feed road which tell you otherwise – you would normally approach it in the imagined left lane position for the 1st and 2nd exits and remain in this lane all the way round. If you’re taking the third exit (or going full circle) you would normally approach in the right lane position and remain in that position until you get to the exit just before the one you need. As you indicate left, you should then check your left (nearside) mirror as you cut across the imagined left hand lane to exit the roundabout.

    If you really know what you are doing, and have made sure there’s no one else behind or alongside you, your actual position as you negotiate the roundabout isn’t critical. However, learners often don’t have a clue who is near them as they reach the roundabout (people speeding and trying to overtake, for example), nor do they have time to check and make a decision at the last moment before they enter it, so maintaining rigid lane discipline is very important.

    Unmarked Roundabouts – Asymmetrical

    When an unmarked roundabout isn’t symmetrical you have to start applying a bit of common sense and judgement, and deal with each one on its own merits. As I said earlier, there is no single way of negotiating roundabouts in the first place.Asymmetrical Roundabout sign

    Let’s get one thing out of the way right now: there is no such thing as ‘the 12 o’clock rule’. At some point in the dim and distant past, someone somewhere tried to try and create an all-encompassing rule that worked for all roundabouts and they called it ‘the 12 o’clock rule’. It used to be a standard teaching method at BSM. But ‘the 12 o’clock rule’ has one big problem: it doesn’t work all the time, so it cannot be “a rule”.

    In general, your lane positioning and signalling on approach to an unmarked asymmetrical roundabout should be exactly the same as for the symmetrical ones.

    If the roundabout is as simple as it appears on the diagram shown here then you might be tempted to signal right if you’re taking the 2nd exit. But think about it. You will be in the left-hand lane and signalling right, so what will people behind you be thinking you’re doing? What will people waiting at the 2nd exit be thinking when they see you coming? You might get away with it on smaller roundabouts or those which don’t have space for two cars, but on the larger ones you could easily cause confusion and prevent others being able to make progress. This is precisely 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’ doesn’t work in many cases.

    If the 2nd exit is much further to the right than I’ve shown here, and depending on how the feed roads are organised, a right signal on approach might be necessary – but that’s because it is actually useful, and not because of ‘the 12 o’clock rule’.

    For all roundabouts, remember that your choice of lane or lane position is not automatic and depends on the individual roundabout and the circumstances at the time.

    Examples Of Unmarked Roundabouts

    I will repeat what I said earlier: all roundabouts are different, though the basic principle you use on them is as given in the HC. The examples I’ve provided here are in Nottingham in the areas where I teach. Some are on test routes, and some aren’t. Some of them don’t exist anymore (thanks to Nottingham’s tram) but they still provide useful guidance for the purposes of this article.

    This first one is a couple of hundred metres down the road from the old Chalfont Drive Test Centre site. When tests were conducted there, 99.9% of candidates had to negotiate it. The test centre was located a few hundred metres up the road marked A on the photo, and as you approach the roundabout along that road, the 2nd exit (marked B) is dramatically to the right, and the 3rd exit (marked C) is even further round.

    Robins Wood Road near Chalfont Drive

    Road A is not wide enough for two cars to sit side-by-side on entry to the roundabout. I teach all of my pupils that they should signal right whether they are taking the 2nd or 3rd exits. In this photo, 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). This has since been changed to accommodate cycle lanes and there are only single lanes on approach, but the roundabout itself is still wide enough for two vehicles. I teach my pupils that when approaching from A, if they are taking the 2nd exit (marked B) they should position themselves to the left at the red dot and signal left immediately they pass the 1st exit (which I haven’t assigned a letter on the photo). If they’re taking the 3rd exit (marked C) or going full circle they should position themselves to the right at the dot and signal left as they pass the 2nd exit (or as they pass the 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.Mini-roundabout on Wilford Lane

    If you’re travelling A to B there is no need for a right signal – even though the exit is after the 12 o’clock position. If you did, you’d be telling people you intended to go full circle, and that would cause a problem for people travelling B to A. Trust me: when you are using this roundabout from B to A it IS confusing when someone signals right going A to B because you can’t risk pulling out in case they really are turning in front of you (which, of course, they occasionally do).

    However, when travelling B to A a left signal is important so that those travelling A to B know you’re not going to turn right across them and go into that side road (which I haven’t assigned a letter to in the photo). A left signal tells them clearly that you’re not. When you are using this roundabout A to B it helps a lot when those travelling B to A signal left. In fact, this principle applies to most three-exit roundabouts where there are no dedicated lanes.

    This next example used to be in Clifton (it is no longer there due to the tram). It illustrates what I just said about three-exit roundabouts.Historical roundabout on Soutchurch Drive/Farnborough Road

    If you were travelling A to B (which is literally straight ahead), ‘the 12 o’clock rule’ would say that you shouldn’t indicate. However, traffic travelling B to A wouldn’t know if you intended to turn right across it into Southchurch Drive (which I haven’t assigned a letter to in the photo). A left signal makes it clear that you’re not. A right signal is not needed when you’re travelling B to A – if you did, then you would be telling people going A to B you intended to go full circle back to B (and since this was a normal sized roundabout it was common for people to use it for turning around).

    I must repeat yet again that every roundabout is slightly 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’re having difficulty with roundabouts. The last thing you need a something you just follow blindly – especially when it sometimes doesn’t work.

    In all of these examples, and on any other roundabout, a great many drivers don’t indicate at all – even when they’re turning left or right. Or they indicate incorrectly, forget to cancel, and so on. As I said right at the start, many drivers haven’t got a clue how to deal with roundabouts. I can sometimes detect the beginnings of this with my own pupils – there are some who will never “get” roundabouts even if they lived to be 100, and who will likely end up driving as badly as everyone else. That’s why you should never trust signals of other road users implicitly. Just use them as part of your overall assessment in any given situation.

    You will hopefully notice from the examples I have given that thinking about what you are doing (instead of relying on nonsense like ‘the 12 o’clock rule’) will help you decide whether to indicate or not. 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.

    Marked Roundabouts

    Larger roundabouts usually have road markings to define lanes and show routes. They also often have multiple intermediate exits of differing sizes and priorities, and 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. Personally, I don’t use the terms “gyratory” or “spiral” because technically these apply to all roundabouts. Making a big deal out of them by giving them special names just scares (and confuses) pupils even more.A section of the Nuthall roundabout - lanes, lanes, and more lanes

    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 roundabout is big and the island itself is raised and covered in trees, which means the intermediate exits are not visible. You have to look for and use the road markings and road signs to plan your way through.Nuthall Roundabout lane markings approaching from Woodhouse Way In all honesty, anyone encountering it for the first time probably wouldn’t stand a chance of doing it properly, especially a learner.

    The diagram above shows how the road markings appear as you approach the Nuthall roundabout along the A6002 Woodhouse Way heading towards the city centre (any large roundabout in any other city would have similar markings). The A6002 is a single lane road, but on approach to 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 once you see the road markings – though on your test this is a much more risky strategy because there will likely be other traffic already moving in behind you.

    Absolutely the worst thing you can do is leave it too late and end up in one of the other lanes, and then try to get over. It would mean moving across the paths of other traffic, by which time other drivers will almost certainly have boxed you in. It will show the examiner that you didn’t plan ahead properly. Of course, many drivers out there do it wrong all the time, but they aren’t on their tests and they simply end up annoying other drivers and putting dents in their cars as a result.

    To be fair, the Nuthall roundabout would be very difficult for anyone to do correctly if they hadn’t done it before, let alone a learner meeting it for the first time on their test. A good driving instructor will therefore make sure their pupil knows how to negotiate this sort of roundabout before they go to test. That applies everywhere – not just in Nottingham.

    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 valid choice available in front of you (i.e. if your lane branches further to the right for additional lanes and other exits). 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 got it wrong in the first place is already likely to have been marked as a driver fault, and if you get in the way of other drivers – which is highly probable given that Nuthall roundabout is only a couple of hundred metres from Junction 26 of the M1 – then it will be marked as a serious or dangerous fault.

    Also remember that what learners and new drivers think they should do and what they are capable of doing are often poles apart. It’s tricky enough for them to do the normal safety checks, let alone the additional ones required to switch lanes safely while actually on the roundabout.

    Staying In Lane

    I find that a many of my learners have major problems staying in lane (referred to as “lane discipline” when it is marked on test by an examiner), and it seems to stem from not actually seeing the lanes or lane markers properly as they’re driving along. Schematic of a single lane

    For example, if you look at the diagram above you can see a single lane represented as though you were looking at it out of the front of the car.

    You can visualise it in various ways. 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 (the “vanishing point”) on the horizon.

    When I talk to my pupils about roundabouts one of the most common complaints is that they get confused by “all those lines crossing”. The trick is to be able to see through the clutter and stay focused on your lane.Schematic showing lanes crossing each other

    The diagram above shows the same lane as in the first – but with “clutter” from other lanes crossing it. It looks much more confusing, but underneath the clutter our original lane is still there. In fact, the other lanes are nothing to do with us, and realising that is the first step to being able to ignore them when it comes to focusing on your lane.

    Learners also need to understand that on any roundabout you would not be expected to make sharp turns – which is exactly what would be involved if you tried to jump from your lane to one of the others in this diagram. Your path will be a smooth and usually gentle curve (or series of curves).

    Another factor affecting how well learners see their lane markers is down to how stressed they are when they are negotiating a roundabout. For some years now I have often asked pupils to measure their stress on a scale of 0-100 – the coaching fraternity would call it scaling – and the answers can be quite surprising. What I do is to 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 the night before, the stress-o-meter would max out at 100. I then ask them what they would rate their stress level at as we carry out various manoeuvres. Some of them will immediately say that they are 70-80 just sitting in the car! However, even for those who are calm about driving, the way their stress increases in certain situations can be a useful piece of information for the instructor.

    Stress acts like a veil or blindfold. Everyone has a different threshold, but at some point an individual’s stress level starts to prevent them from thinking or seeing clearly. Things go out of focus. In some cases, they disappear completely from the pupil’s consciousness. In a lot of cases, this is exactly what happens to learners on roundabouts.

    Are roundabouts classed as junctions?

    Yes. Any point where two or more roads meet or cross is a junction, so roundabouts are also junctions.

    If you’ve asked this because you are thinking about your check test/standards check it is best to treat roundabouts, crossroads, and normal t-junctions separately.

    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 just before the one you want.

    As I explained earlier, there are some roundabouts where indicating for intermediate or straight ahead exits makes sense, and many where it doesn’t. There is no rule that fits all situations, so don’t look for one. Similarly, there are situations where indicating to leave the roundabout isn’t absolutely necessary (e.g. if you are in the left-hand lane of two or more marked lanes heading off at the same exit; or if the layout of the roundabout is such that you’re taking an almost straight line through it).

    As far as signalling goes, if you signal when it isn’t really necessary and no one is confused by it you’re not going to be marked down for it. However, if you signal when you don’t need to and it is misleading, or don’t signal when you should have, you’re looking at a serious fault. Indicating right to go straight ahead at a roundabout is almost certainly going to confuse other drivers (with a few exceptions), and it certainly isn’t how you should be dealing with every roundabout you encounter.

    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 has. The HC says that on approach you shouldn’t normally need to indicate for any intermediate exit. That word “normally” is the one that makes the “12 o’clock rule” complete nonsense.

    There are some roundabouts where the intermediate exit you want is so far to the right that a signal might well benefit other drivers, but there are other situations where it would definitely confuse them. Look at the first example I gave, above, for a situation where it makes sense to indicate. Just make sure that your road position matches your intentions when you negotiate any roundabout.

    Doesn’t the Highway Code wording automatically imply the 12 o’clock rule?

    Absolutely not. I noticed someone on a forum claim that – right after they had initially claimed that the 12 o’clock rule was mentioned in the Highway Code (HC). The HC says clearly that you normally shouldn’t need to indicate for any intermediate exit. That is as clear a statement as you can get that there is no such thing as the 12 o’clock rule, and it certainly doesn’t suggest that the rule is valid. Quite the opposite.

    The HC does not mention the 12 o’clock rule, directly or indirectly. The HC does not imply that the 12 o’clock rule works – because it often doesn’t, and therefore cannot be classed as a “rule”.

    So how do you teach a pupil the difference between a roundabout left turn and right turn?

    You’re missing the point. It isn’t about where left is and where right is. The HC says clearly that a signal for any intermediate exit isn’t normally needed. That shoots the 12 o’clock rule out of the water as a “rule”.

    Signals for intermediate exits frequently end up being misleading. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve waited on a busy roundabout (the Nottingham Knight during rush hour is a good example) for someone indicating right for too long (so I wait), only to have them leave via the earlier exit (but having prevented me taking the opportunity to move out). Unnecessary signals for intermediate exits have precisely the same effect on other road users.

    But the 12 o’clock rule is just a way to help learners when they’re starting out.

    That sounds good on paper, but if you teach something like that to someone who is effectively a blank book, it will become the most important thing in the world to them. Remember that 90% of drivers hate roundabouts, don’t know how they work, and dice with death every time they go near one. They love rules like “the 12 o’clock rule”, which they can confidently quote on forums as a fact (or of being directly from the HC) if someone ever asks for advice.

    The 12 o’clock rule is absolutely not a “rule”. Unfortunately, if you teach it to a learner there is nothing you can say that will stop it being treated as such by them. Let’s be honest, though. Many ADIs have the same problems with roundabouts themselves, and the 12 o’clock rule – apart from being falsely held to be a “rule” by them in the first place – is often seen as an easy way out. Once it has been adopted, it then becomes necessary to defend it. And so the problem continues down the years.

    It’s up to you, of course. But just think about who and what you’re dealing with.

    How do you teach roundabouts not using the 12 o’clock rule?

    This is where an ADI earns their money. You need to find out why your pupil can’t manage them, and in most cases it’s because they panic as they approach them. This means it is as if they were wearing a blindfold when they get there – they can’t see the path they need to take in front of them. Papering over this with the 12 o’clock rule isn’t doing anyone any favours, and don’t fool yourself into thinking that they will be able to work it all out for themselves later. If you teach them the 12 o’clock rule, 99% of them will still be blindly following it in 40 years time. They won’t be using any more common sense then than they’re capable of using now.

    It makes sense, therefore, to teach it properly. How you get round this depends on the pupil, but they need to slow down and start thinking about where they are and where they need to be – then they can apply some of their theoretical knowledge about roundabouts to get there. In most cases, if you question a pupil who has just made a hash of a roundabout, you’ll discover that at that moment in time they hadn’t got a clue where they were or where they were going, nor could they see lane markers or other traffic. Trust me, you need to deal with that instead of trying to conceal it.

    If you’re an ADI who claims to teach “safe driving for life”, you’ll be turning out far safer drivers if you teach them how to think instead of just showing them how to blindly follow some false rule.

    Should I indicate to go straight ahead on a 3-exit roundabout?

    Look at the mini-roundabout in the second example I gave, above. The main road is A to B, and the side road leads off to a school and recreation area. Here’s what it looks like as you approach it from A (the south).Wilford Lane mini-roundabout - from the south

    And here’s what it looks like from B (the north).Wilford Lane mini-roundabout - from the north

    Approaching it from A, you would obviously signal if turning left into the school road. But if you intended to continue along B, a right-turn signal would be telling people that you intended to go full circle and pass in front of them – so they would have to stop in case you did. Yet the “12 o’clock rule” would have you indicate, since the exit is after the 12 o’clock position.

    Approaching from B is different, though. Again, you’d obviously indicate right to tell people if you intended to take the school road. However, if you intended to continue along A then a left signal is helpful to those coming the opposite way because it tells them you are not going to pass in front of them.

    Remember that many drivers signal incorrectly or not at all – and no signal is just as bad as the wrong one in most cases. On this particular roundabout, the school road is often used by dog walkers, and when you consider who dog walkers often are it isn’t at all uncommon for them to turn into the school road without signalling. Therefore, if you signal correctly or helpfully it helps drivers coming the opposite way and avoids them having to stop.

    The Golden Rule is that if your signal helps someone and doesn’t confuse them then it is a good idea to use it. And at the risk of creating a “rule”, what I’ve explained here is useful for most three-exit roundabouts. Watch what other drivers 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.

    Incidentally, although this example only has single-lane feed roads, the usual positioning on those with markings going A-to-B would be the right-hand lane, and the left-hand lane going B-to-A. Usually, such roundabouts will be marked – but not always.

    But you’re only supposed to signal if you’re changing direction, aren’t you?

    That’s 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:

    Use signals

    • 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 example I used in the previous question, if other road users can’t otherwise be 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 indicating right when they’re going straight ahead and it is extremely confusing if you’re coming the opposite way. It seems to be a combination of how they were taught (apparently, this was the way to do it once upon a time), and their own attempts to simplify roundabouts and handle them all in exactly the same way because they never understood them anyway. It probably also explains why such drivers are usually weaving all over the place or in the wrong lanes!

    Think about the individual situation and do what makes sense for it. Sometimes you will signal, sometimes 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 signal incorrectly. 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. For some reason, the usual crowd have got themselves into a real lather over it.The picture in the Highway Code - roundabouts

    The diagram is absolutely correct, particularly in view of the fact that every entry road in the diagram has two lanes as well, 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 one of the other roads 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 of this is the Virgin Roundabout in Nottingham, which features on several Colwick test routes. An aerial view of it is shown below.The Virgin Roundabout in Colwick, Nottingham

    The main road is a dual carriageway on one side, and two lanes quickly merging into one on the other (the yellow lines). The two side roads are single lanes into industrial areas, one of which is sometimes used for test purposes (the green line).

    The two lanes on the main road define the number of lanes on the roundabout, and this means that emerging from the industrial road in question requires careful thought.

    It is perfectly acceptable to move across and merge with the left hand lane as you negotiate the roundabout as long as you do it safely. However, as I have already mentioned, learners are often unable to handle the extra safety aspects involved as well as all the other things they need to do. On top of this, the main road here is very busy and the likelihood of someone entering the roundabout in the left hand lane while the learner is actually on it is extremely high (it’s normal practice, in fact). For that reason – which I explain clearly to all of my learners – the safest and easiest way for them to negotiate the roundabout is to remain in the right-hand lane and exit in that lane (as shown by the green line). Then, all they have to do is merge safely on the main road.

    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. I’ve given examples, above.

    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. The examples I have provided show clearly that in some cases the signal dictated by the “12 o’clock rule” would be misleading.

    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, shown here.Roundabout 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 (that red car in the photo is ideally placed – if he were indicating right, but intended to leave via exit 3, someone waiting at exit 2 could pull out because the signal would be misleading).

    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 and so adopt the right position if turning right – unless local knowledge says otherwise.

    Which lane should I choose?

    It depends. If the roundabout is a simple four-road one and is unmarked:

    • for left or straight ahead you should approach in the left hand lane (or position to the left at the roundabout if the approach is a single lane). You should stay in that lane until you have left the roundabout, remembering to signal at the exit before the one you want
    • for right or full circle then you should approach in the right hand lane (or position to the right), then check your mirror and signal at the exit before the one you want

    If the roundabout is marked, or if it has more than four roads joining it:

    • choose the appropriate lane or position on approach

    Signs or road markings might tell you what position to use. Often, it is down to local knowledge and nothing else. Here’s an example submitted by a reader.Roundabout - A47 Norwich to Yarmouth

    The A47 from Norwich (A) continues straight ahead to Great Yarmouth (B). It is a dual-carriageway on both sides. The second exit (C) goes to the village of Blofield. The reader asked which lane to use approaching from A when intending to exit via C.

    Most marked roundabouts will have signs and road arrows telling you which lanes to use. Remember that unless you really know what you are doing, if two or more lanes are going in your direction, staying in the one on the left is the safest option.

    This particular example is complicated by the fact that the main feed roads are dual carriageways, and that changes the priorities somewhat. If you think about it logically, trying to negotiate from A to exit via C in the left lane is potentially dangerous because – in the absence of road markings dictating lane usage – it is perfectly acceptable for people to approach from A and exit via B in the right hand one. This would increase significantly the chance of a collision between an A-B driver on the right and an A-C driver on the left as they attempted to cross each other. However, since there are no signs or even road arrows, someone who didn’t have local knowledge could understandably approach in the left lane.

    Unfortunately, therefore, if a roundabout is in any way non-symmetrical, the basic roundabout rule becomes less reliable and you have to use other information to decide how to negotiate it. Fortunately, as you gain experience this is less difficult than it might at first appear.

    Can I fail for going straight ahead from the left lane?

    Ordinarily, this is the correct lane for straight ahead (i.e. a symmetrical roundabout with four exits). However, if the roundabout is non-symmetrical, has more than one “straight ahead” route, or if sign or road markings indicate otherwise, then the left lane may not be the correct lane to use.

    There is no one-size-fits-all in learning to drive and gaining local knowledge through a driving instructor is important in these sorts of cases. You cannot just “do” all roundabouts in exactly the same way, so yes, it is possible to fail for going straight ahead from the left lane if that is not how that particular roundabout should be handled.

    Why isn’t it the middle lane for going straight ahead?

    Sometimes it is. But it can just as often be another lane – one roundabout near me has three lanes, with the two left ones going left, and the right-hand one for straight ahead and right. Often, there is no middle lane anyway. You simply use the appropriate lane based on the underlying principle of “left lane for left or straight ahead, right lane for right turn or full circle”, but allowing for road signs and road markings which might change lane usage. If there are more than two lanes there will usually be signage of some sort or arrows on the road.

    What does “lane discipline” mean?

    It means choosing the correct lane, and/or staying in the correct lane, and/or doing the right checks before changing lanes. It applies to all aspects of driving, not just roundabouts. Many learners (and plenty of so-called “experienced” drivers) haven’t got a clue how lanes work, and this is where their problems stem from.

    Can I change lanes on the roundabout if I get into the wrong one?

    Yes, as long as you have checked to make sure you aren’t going to interfere with anyone else. If you are likely to impede someone, follow the lane you’re in and either find a place to turn around or just carry on round the roundabout and select the correct lane this time around.

    However, you need to face facts. If you got into the wrong lane to start with then there’s a good chance you don’t know what you’re doing, and taking the correct observations as you attempt to correct your position is unlikely to happen. Being in the wrong lane is almost certainly going to be marked as a fault on your test. If you cause someone to slow down by changing lanes or hesitating you’re probably going to get a serious or dangerous fault. If you don’t check properly before switching you’ll probably get a serious fault even if there’s no one there. It can be marked under failure to read road signs or road markings, planning and anticipation, junctions/observation to name a few.

    Getting into the wrong lane regularly is the sign of a very bad driver and in the worst cases it could be seen as careless or dangerous driving if it caused an accident.

    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 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 in most cases.

    Does a satnav tell you which lane to use?

    No (but see the additional comment below). And if it did, it would be suicide to trust it. You need to learn how to do roundabouts properly and not place blind faith in technology.

    A big problem is that every roundabout is different – even to the point that they’re different each time you use them if there’s heavy traffic or a lane closure – so putting an all-encompassing rule into a satnav just isn’t going to work. If anyone tried, it would be chaos (and very dangerous indeed).

    However (and this is the additional comment I mentioned), I notice that if you use Google for navigation it DOES try to tell you which lane to use. It’s very risky when a lane is coned-off for road works or something, and it depends on the maps being absolutely 100% up to date – and I notice that they’re not (a few hours before I wrote this I was in Manchester and apparently in a field instead of on a new-ish industrial estate).

    What about service roads?

    The term “service road” is a bit of a misnomer these days. The road in question is just as often a gateway to a retail park or other site where there is usually no through road. They usually appear on signs as smaller roads like this:Roundabout with a service road

    The service road is that little dash at the 8 o’clock position in this roundabout sign. Sometimes, the dash is so small you could easily not see it as you drive past. I usually don’t include them in the exit count – so the 2nd exit here would still be the one just after the 12 o’clock position.

    However, I’ve said more than once that you have to take each roundabout on its own merits, and sometimes you might want to include it in the count. We have one in Nottingham on the A52 which looks like this:Bardill's Roundabout sign

    The garden centre (Bardill’s, hence the name) is on a very small service road, and yet it has been designated as an actual roundabout exit by virtue of the length of the line. There are some roundabouts with much bigger service roads than this one – often multi-lane entry/exit roads from a retail park – which only warrant a short dash as in the first diagram.

    Then you can have dual carriageways appearing as two dashes, like this:Roundabout sign with dual carriageways

    Both carriageways are shown for each dual carriageway exit – but you only count each pair of dashes as a single exit. To complicate matters, not all roundabouts are signed like this and it is common for dual carriageways to appear merely as a single dash on the sign. It is common for learners to try and exit the wrong way up a dual carriageway at some stage early in their training whether they have read the signs or not – the statement “take the second exit” often gets interpreted very literally.

    Some signs are horrendously complicated, using two dashes for dual carriageways, having multiple service roads, and even “skeleton roads” (these are outlined but not filled in). Some exits will even have small signs on them indicating no entry, weight or height restrictions, bus routes, etc.

    The bottom line for the pupils is that you first have to learn how roundabouts work in general, then – if you are going to have to cover a tricky one on test – be shown specifically how it works and what the sign means (if it’s a complex one). You certainly don’t want to have to be trying to work out how to do it for the first time on your test. And make sure that you get someone who actually knows how it works – your mum or dad is probably the worst choice. For the instructor, it is essential to avoid confusion, so additional wording might be needed in your instructions (“take the second main exit”, or “take the second exit – it’s not the garden centre one”, and so on).

    If the third exit is before 12 o’clock where do you position yourself in a roundabout?

    There is no such thing as the “12 o’clock rule”, so this has nothing to do with it. There is no set answer. However, 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 usually position to the right. Road signs and road markings can override this rule.

    “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 should be handled.

    If the 3rd exits is after 12 o’clock where do you position yourself in a roundabout?

    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). Refer to the Gloucester example, above.

    All roundabouts are different. I’ve given an example earlier (near where the Chalfont Drive test centre used to be) 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 roundabouts properly. 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.

    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 about these appendices to the Northern Ireland Highway Code?

    A reader recently sent me a link, claiming that there is an appendix to the HC which advocates the “12 o’clock rule”. Unfortunately, his email address was incorrect and I could not reply.

    In fact, the appendix he linked to is specifically for Northern Ireland (which differs from the rest of the UK on numerous issues in regards to driver training), even though he appears to be located in England. Furthermore, that appendix is absolutely in contradiction to what it says in the NI HC, and contains non-standard images and wording. I suspect that it is some NI government official’s attempt to clarify roundabouts based on his own poor understanding of them.

    The NI HC says exactly the same thing as the one for the rest of the UK – that you should not normally need to signal for an intermediate exit. I will state again that there is no such thing as a “12 o’clock rule”, and signalling as if there was is likely to confuse other road users.

    What am I supposed to be checking for in my left mirror?

    On smaller roundabouts, when you leave it – and particularly when you are turning right and are close to the island – you will usually have to move to the left in order to take your exit. Someone else might be on your left, 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 to move over. It is quite possible to fail your driving test if you don’t do this properly, especially if 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 (see the Virgin example, above). 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.

    Is it a “major” if I stall at a roundabout?

    You mean, is it driver fault, or a serious or dangerous fault? Well, the short answer is no, it’s not automatically a serious/dangerous fault.

    However, if you stall at a roundabout then there is a significant chance that someone could run into the back of you. If you stall as you enter the roundabout then someone could also go into the side of you. Wherever you do it, it’s likely you’ll be causing a hold up. I’ve written in detail about stalling in another article.

    Depending on how you deal with it, you might get away with just a driver fault. Being honest, though, the chances of it being marked as either serious or dangerous are very high.

    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 do I enter a gridlocked roundabout?

    There’s no simple answer to this. Every situation will be different. Above all else, you need to be both confident AND competent! Confident in moving out, and competent at doing it under control, and knowing which lane you need.

    You may get lucky and someone already on the roundabout will let you out. If not, you’re going to have to show that you want to get out and edge forward slightly to try and get your message across. Obviously, don’t pull out in front of anyone, but try to swing the balance a little more towards you. Someone will get the message eventually. Remember that you don’t have the automatic right of way, so don’t assume that you do.

    Remember that if there are two or more lanes of traffic on the roundabout you will have to do this for each lane you want to cross. You can’t assume that just because one person stopped to let you out then everyone else will – because they probably won’t.

    Don’t get greedy, either. If there are two or more lanes heading off in your direction then stick with the left one, at least until you get off the roundabout. Having some jackass trying to get themselves into the “fast” lane when traffic is almost stationary anyway is very annoying, and that’s why people don’t like letting you in in the first place.

    What should I do if the traffic lights are out on a light-controlled roundabout?

    In theory, treat it as a normal roundabout, giving way to traffic on your right. However, assume that everyone else on the road is an idiot who doesn’t understand this (trust me, it happened to me a few weeks ago, and everyone else IS an idiot in this scenario), and be very careful with traffic entering in front of you.

    What is a spiral roundabout?

    Personally, I don’t like this phrase and I don’t use it with my pupils (although I often explain it to them). The reason I don’t like it is that ALL roundabouts are spiral – if you are on the inside nearest to the island, you’ve got to move out in order to exit since all exits are effectively left turns. I was disappointed to see that the latest edition of Driving: The Essential Skills uses the term.

    The name is typically applied specifically to marked roundabouts – the ones that have a lot of lanes on them. I’ve explained how to handle these above, so don’t let the word “spiral” confuse you. So-called spiral roundabouts are NOT any more difficult than normal roundabouts once you know what you’re doing, and that’s in spite of some of the nonsense I’ve seen people writing on their driving school websites. If anything, the marked lanes make them easier (you have to imagine the lanes on unmarked roundabouts, whereas you can see them on marked ones).

    Why did I fail my test on roundabouts?

    There is no specific mark for roundabouts on the DL25 marking sheet. Any faults will be marked under things like “response to signs/signals”, “junctions” (approach speed or observation), “positioning” (normal driving or lane discipline), and so on.

    From my own experience, the mistakes pupils make involving roundabouts tend to boil down to not seeing them at all (or not seeing them early enough) and approaching too fast, not understanding priorities and either waiting when there’s no need or going when they shouldn’t, and a combination of not staying in lane and not checking their mirrors.

    People from countries where they drive on the right often try to give way to the left on roundabouts. People from countries where the standard of driving is so low that it gets TV shows all to itself tend to brake harshly and wait needlessly. But by far the biggest problem (in my own experience) is when people don’t stay in lane/position as they go round a roundabout, and then don’t check to see if there is another car in the space they are encroaching upon.

    Examiners tend to mark this last one under observation, but from an ADI’s point of view it isn’t that simple. The driver is usually blissfully unaware that they have deviated in the first place, and that’s where the problem is rooted.

    How would an ADI teach roundabouts on a Check Test (Standards Check)?

    An interesting question. The simple answer is that the lesson you give on a Standards Check/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.

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