Roundabouts are a key form of junction in the UK – in fact, we have more roundabouts, proportionally, than any other nation in the world! While they undoubtedly offer a safe and efficient form of traffic control, roundabouts are also a source of confusion and anxiety for many drivers.
This is not unfounded as roundabouts are common sites for accidents, often being a result of confusion around navigating entry and exit. In 2018 alone there were 12,252 accidents of varying severity at roundabouts (this figure rises to nearly 60,000 if you count accidents within 20 meters of the junction).
Whether you are a newbie among motorists or an experienced driver, you might find yourself struggling with roundabouts - and you’re not alone. After all, you have to know all the rules such as how to enter a roundabout; what lane to use at roundabouts, and more. Let’s explore everything, so you can master driving on roundabouts safely and comfortably.
Know how to use a roundabout of any type
Navigating a roundabout safely and efficiently involves a number of factors.
These start from identifying the kind of roundabout you are approaching and reading roundabout signs correctly. Then you should be aware of the rules of that roundabout type, such as knowing how to use lanes on a roundabout or handling a roundabout with traffic lights.
Of course, all factors related to your knowledge, driving skills and experience are paired with things you can’t control, like the current weather conditions.
There are different types of roundabouts but the main ones include mini, single-lane, and multi-lane. Each of them has unique features and rules that you should be aware of.
Mini roundabout rules
Mini roundabouts look like regular four or three- way junctions but they operate in much the same way as single-lane roundabouts. Instead of central-island there will usually be a slightly raised central circle or a painted centre.
While most mini roundabouts are, indeed, very small, in theory any roundabout which lacks a central island is classed as a mini roundabout.
Who has right of way at a mini roundabout? As with all roundabouts, you should give way to the right and signal your departure, but with a mini roundabout you need to be on the ball as you have far less time to signal!
Single-lane roundabout rules
Single-lane roundabouts function in the same way as mini roundabouts, but are generally larger. Their defining feature is the presence of a central island. You will not see traffic lights on these roundabouts, but you may see signs as you approach.
When using both mini and single-lane roundabouts, you should wait at the give-way line and signal before moving off. Signal to the left if you are taking the first exit, otherwise signal right. Some people will say to signal right only if you will be passing the second exit (i.e. if you are not going “straight ahead”), but this is not accurate in a technical sense. Signalling right is proper because it lets people waiting at the first exit know that they should give way to you!
Multi-lane roundabout rules
Multi-lane roundabouts range from small two-lane versions to huge six-lane roundabouts with traffic lights managing the flow of vehicles. These may seem a bit more complicated but there are simple rules that will help you to navigate such big roundabouts properly.
Most commonly, you will need to know how to use 4- and 3-lane roundabouts. The first rule is no different to other roundabout types: you should stop at the give-way line and give way to the right waiting until it is safe to move off. If you are exiting the roundabout at the first exit, enter it from the left-most approach lane and take the roundabout lane furthest from the centre unless signage specifically discourages it (e.g. if it leads to a private road). If you are taking any other exit, signal right.
Remember you should only enter the centre-most lane of the roundabout if you are taking the very last exit – that is the one directly to the right of your entry point. If you are taking any previous exit you should take a corresponding lane while still signalling right. For instance, if you are taking the fourth exit of a 5-exit roundabout with 3 lanes you should enter the middle lane. Stay in this lane until you pass the third exit and then signal left and move to the outer lane and your desired exit.
Roundabout with traffic lights
Roundabouts with traffic lights are not uncommon either. Although they can be a little anxiety inducing, they basically function according to similar, general roundabout rules.
The only difference is, obviously, that you should expect traffic lights on the actual roundabout. So be prepared to stop at the red light and be watchful for other drivers who may not notice the lights. Checking to the right when roundabout traffic lights change to green is a very good precautionary practice.
What to do if you get confused on a roundabout
There are roundabout interchanges, cut-through roundabouts, and the infamous ‘magic’ roundabout (which is a large roundabout with mini roundabouts at every junction). Although they all have a unique set of challenges, their basic rules are pretty universal: give way to the right, don’t move until it’s safe, signal your movements, and be aware of other road-users.
The most common, and costly, mistake that people make on roundabouts where they are unsure of the rules is to rush because they are worried about annoying other road users.
If you find yourself lost or in doubts while driving on a roundabout you don’t understand and you think you are in the wrong lane, DON’T:
- Quickly jump lanes to reach an exit
- Brake suddenly
- Speed up to ‘beat’ another car to your desired exit
If you think that you may be in a lane that will lead you to an earlier exit than the one you wish, you can simply continue to signal right until you make it to your desired exit as long as the lane permits this. Do NOT try to move right into a new lane.
If you notice that you are in an inner lane when you should be in an outer lane approaching an exit you may be able to signal and move out if it is safe. If it is not safe or if you have already passed your exit, you should simply keep indicating right and continue around the roundabout so long as it is safe to leave.
If all else fails and you realise you have taken the wrong exit you can either pull into a car park or layby and turn around when it is safe to do so, or continue on that road until you find a safe way to double back.
Roundabout safety is key
Roundabout rules and their unusual forms may seem surprising or daunting, even to experienced drivers. However, you should be aware that even the most complicated roundabouts are made up of features you already know how to tackle.
Take each challenge individually and stay calm. Remember that even if you miss an exit it’s not the end of the world. It’s far more important to stay safe!