Roundabout Positioning

Which is the correct lane when approaching a roundabout and taking an intermediate (often straight ahead) exit?
Roundabout Positioning Chaos

Roundabout Chaos

 

When I learned to drive in 1971 roundabout positioning was easy, I was told the correct lane for going ahead was the left lane. It was a simple system and, from what I can remember, it seemed to work well in those days.

Over the years, the number of cars on the road has increased, roundabouts have become larger, often multi-lane and more complex and the left-hand lane system doesn’t have the same relevance because even if everyone uses it, and much of the time they don’t, you continue to find yourself beside other vehicles all wanting the same exit.

In 1999 the Highway Code was updated which didn’t help much as it just became more ambiguous by not telling us which lane to take and instead advising us to select the appropriate lane. It made no difference to the driver training industry as most instructors continued to teach the lane system as though nothing had changed.

In recent years I have started to question the conventional wisdom of this approach. Surely something is wrong if you reach the point where practical driving test routes need to be changed because a roundabout is considered too difficult for test candidates just because they have learned the ‘official roundabout positioning system’. We reached that point at the Burgess Hill Test Centre a couple of years ago.

It seems to me that despite any health and safety issues for driving test examiners, new drivers must learn how to remain safe when driving through difficult roundabouts.

If a google search is made on the term: ’roundabout accidents’ the results include countless examples of people writing into forums seeking advice following accidents on roundabouts. The most striking aspect for me was the belief held by many that they should have been safe because they followed the lane advice given when learning to drive.

My initial reaction was to ‘instruct’ on the best way of dealing with the difficult roundabouts locally just to get clients through the test. The disadvantage with that approach is that people taught in this way remain unprepared for other difficult roundabouts.

Eventually, I decided a change was needed. Sometimes we do things in particular ways for no better reason than we have always done it that way and sometimes fresh eyes can see things differently and my clients have provided those eyes.

Wherever possible, I prefer not to give instruction, but instead coach clients to think for themselves. When a client of mine is learning to deal with roundabouts, we almost always spend a little time watching the movement of traffic around any busy roundabout and invariably I will ask what they notice about the traffic. In most cases the client adopts a worried look and admits that all they see is chaos and very few notice any kind of system being used. I love the blunt honesty!

If you then ask what they believe they could do to remain safe when driving through the chaos, the reply is also nearly always along the lines of: “Be aware of the cars around you and avoid them”. It sounds simplistic but it’s undeniably a good plan, but more importantly, it’s a starting point for the discussion about how they would implement the plan. Instead of slavishly following a lane position strategy for being safe we start driving through roundabouts looking to see who is around us and where they are going.

In the conversation that follows you can talk about predictability and signalling as components of collision avoidance and at some later time, whilst putting into practise the theory we have been discussing, it is usually discovered that certain lane positions in certain conditions can provide an advantage.

The cynics who read this will doubtless say that I have gone the long way around to achieve the same thing but I would argue that allowing the client to identify his own method for staying safe is much more effective than learning a routine. The move away from ‘being told’ to ‘being allowed to discover’ means I am no longer teaching people how to deal with tricky roundabouts on a test route but preparing them for any difficult roundabout, wherever they go, after passing the test.

I consider my clients to be match fit if they can safely negotiate the roundabout described, by the local test centre manager, as too as too dangerous for test candidates.