Get clockwise on how to use roundabouts correctly
Roundabouts can be a source of confusion for drivers, writes Brian Farrell of the Road Safety Authority
If there is one issue that generates heated discussion in road safety, it's roundabouts. We receive many queries each year from the public about roundabouts.
The main gist of the correspondence is "people don't know how to use roundabouts, do something to teach them how to use them properly".
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Roundabouts can sometimes be intimidating, especially those with multiple entry and exit lanes. And it's clear that some drivers find them challenging, with 30 penalty points notices being issued in recent times for driving the wrong way around a roundabout. A further 36 penalty points notices have been issued to drivers for failing to drive correctly on a mini-roundabout.
By following some basic tips, negotiating a roundabout can be a much safer and less stressful experience.
After getting the views of some of my colleagues in Driver Testing and Training, the most important piece of advice they have for drivers is to really concentrate and read the road carefully long before you actually get onto the roundabout. If you sleepwalk your way onto a roundabout, you could find yourself in difficulty.
And this is the reason why: conditions at roundabouts may vary around the country. It's probably the single biggest reason why people get into difficulty on a roundabout.
It's really important, especially if you are driving on unfamiliar roads, to carefully read the road signs and road markings on the approach to a roundabout. Look for directional arrows, road markings or signs that tell you what lane you should use for the exit you'll need to take and, using the 'mirror, signal, mirror, manoeuvre' routine, move into the correct lane in good time.
Many drivers get themselves into difficulty because they approach a roundabout too fast, so don't give themselves enough time to read the road and end up getting into difficulty.
Typically, if something goes wrong it results in a fender-bender collision - but if a vulnerable road user such as a pedestrian, cyclist or motorcyclist is involved, it could be more serious. Reduce your speed on approach to a roundabout, especially if the road conditions are wet or icy.
You must yield to any traffic coming from the right. But if you check to see what traffic is already on the roundabout early on your approach, you can time your arrival onto the roundabout so that you can merge onto the roundabout when the way is clear.
By law, a driver must enter a roundabout by turning to the left. With early planning and good observation, driving around a roundabout should go like 'clockwork'. As a general rule, we suggest that drivers use the 12 o'clock 'golden rule' to help plan a safe path onto and around a roundabout, unless road signs, markings or traffic conditions indicate otherwise.
This 'golden rule' should help you to drive safely at any roundabout regardless of the number of exits: Think of the roundabout as a clock. If taking any exit from the 6 o'clock to the 12 o'clock position, you should generally approach in the left-hand lane.
If taking any exit between the 12 o'clock to the 6 o'clock positions, motorists should generally approach in the right-hand lane. But if there are road markings showing you what lane you should be in, follow those directions. Traffic conditions might sometimes mean you have to take a different approach, which may involve a lane change but, in the main, the 'golden rule' will help you to drive safely on any roundabout.
If a roundabout is controlled by traffic lights, the traffic lights must be obeyed.
Motorists should be aware of other road users such as cyclists, motorcyclists, horse riders and large or long vehicles who may have to change their position on the approach, as well as on the roundabout.
Using a roundabout can be very intimidating for cyclists, so it is vital you check your blind spots when changing lane and especially when exiting a roundabout.
Research has shown that three times as many cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians were killed at roundabouts compared to car users.
While you may be a confident driver and have no issue using a roundabout, you still need to have your wits about you. You cannot legislate for the bad or erratic behaviour of other drivers - that's why it is so important to be 'on guard' and ready to react. For example, recently while on a roundabout I deliberately slowed down and delayed leaving via the third exit because I could see a truck about to join the roundabout whose driver was on a mobile phone. Sure enough, the truck driver was totally distracted. He didn't see me, didn't yield either and sailed on through the roundabout. If I hadn't spotted the potential danger and slowed down, he would have hit me side-on.
If you are someone who is intimidated by roundabouts, or maybe hesitant about using a particular one in your locality, why not ask an RSA Approved Driving Instructor (ADI) in your local area to give you a refresher lesson? An ADI can give one-on-one coaching to help build up experience and confidence, so you're using a roundabout like clockwork.