Roundabouts are not something we find often in the U.S. When I lived in New Mexico, we had one in the small town where we lived and no one knew how to drive it (including me). I think more wrecks occurred in that spot than anywhere else in town and there is even a YouTube video of someone crashing into the middle of the roundabout by jumping the foot and a half barrier.
In England, however, Roundabouts are a frequent and common occurrence. It is nearly impossible to drive anywhere without encountering at least one. Large, small, simple, complex–there are lots of different types you can come across. For those who have asked or wondered about the fun of roundabouts, I’m going to try to give the basics. I can’t claim to use the more complex roundabouts and hope to never come across a few I’ve heard of, but I do manage without stopping at the entrance and pausing for 15 minutes (A common complaint about Americans and roundabouts).
First, you have mini-roundabouts. In the U.S., where we would have a four-way stop, England has a mini-roundabout. This sign is of a sign in Ireland, but the sign here is the same, and the direction below is correct for any roundabout as you do “Give Way to traffic from the right.” For those who don’t remember from my last post, “give way” is the same as yield in the States. When you pull up to this roundabout, you look to the right to see if someone is coming, if not, you can proceed. I do admit that I’m simplifying things a bit. You should signal–not that everyone does, but it does make things flow more smoothly if all involved do so.
That brings us to the next question: How do you use your signal in a roundabout? It isn’t as complicated as one might think if those of us from the U.S. think of it as a four-way stop. Most mini-roundabouts have four roads branching from it, so, in order from when you enter, you either make a left hand turn, go straight, or make a right hand turn.
If going left, you turn on your left indicator when approaching the roundabout, if clear, proceed in and take that first exit. It’s simple.
If you’re going straight, you approach the roundabout with no indicator, enter the roundabout when you can, and at the first exit, turn on your left indicator, proceeding into the exit when you reach it.
Finally, for a right, you approach the roundabout with your right indicator on, enter when you can, and at the exit before you leave the roundabout turn on your left indicator and take your exit.
Always turn on your indicator at the exit before you leave the roundabout! It’s really a common courtesy since a person waiting in the road your taking will know they can enter the roundabout and don’t have to remain waiting for you.
Granted, not all roundabouts are simple. Some have stop lights within the roundabout when they are particularly busy. Some roundabouts have multiple lanes because they have a high amount of traffic and/or have more than four exits. Depends, but the rules remain the same for the indicators, you just have to judge where the exit is, but as long as you turn on your indicator before your exit, you should do well.
If there are multiple lanes in the roundabout, the inside lane is always the last exit(s). Usually, there are arrows on the road to tell you whether you belong in the inside lane or the outside lane before you enter to go straight. When the roundabout itself has more than two lanes, there are often designations painted onto the road to tell you which lane to use.
This page for a driving school here in England has some pretty good illustrations of signalling for those who want a bit more information.
Larger roundabouts have street signs leading up to the roundabout itself, showing which exits lead to which road or place, to allow you to prepare. They can be a bit confusing. This one not only has more than four exits, but also has stop lights as you can see by the additional sign that blocks part of the roundabout key. I read that in World War 2, they removed these signs in the event the Germans invaded England. I would have been lost! I admit to using GPS/SatNav quite a bit here, but I still rely on the signs! When you are in the roundabout, many also have signs at each exit to help navigate within the obstacle.
Now, what happens if you miss your exit? Simple, you stick to the inside (if you are in a multi-lane roundabout) and circle around again. If you take the wrong exit, you just have to figure out how to get back. I will say roundabouts work well for U-turns as well 🙂 I’ve taken the wrong exit, and used the next roundabout to U-turn and go back.
For those who are more familiar with this, I know I’ve probably skipped a lot and oversimplified it as well, but it’s the basics. There are some crazy roundabouts out there, and while I’ve driven a double roundabout, I don’t feel qualified to explain most of the multiple, complicated roundabouts out there. Yes, there are multiple roundabouts that blow my mind to be honest. The “Magic Roundabout” in Swindon, which would make me panic, is one example. I think I’d prefer to avoid it if possible!
Like I said, this a pretty simple explanation without getting into any complicated detail. I had no more than this when I set out driving here, and part of getting the hang of it, is trial and error and a few native drivers making dirty hand gestures and swearing at you 😉 Honestly, the only way to learn to drive a roundabout is to get in a car and try one!
12 thoughts on “Here We Go Around–Roundabouts”
At least you use your indicators Leslie. I bet you find that a lot of people in England don’t even bother to indicate and expect you to guess which way they are turning! When I was in America I found it very strange that you did not have roundabouts but you will get used to them. I do find reading your posts about driving in England amusing although I can imagine it must be an absolute nightmare for you or anyone from abroad to get used to driving on the other side of the road too!
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The worst for me was when I swapped from a U.S. Spec car to a UK spec car on a regular basis. Now that I’m strictly driving UK cars, I don’t get as disoriented anymore. Learning to swap hands I use for a manual was interesting! After almost two years, I still get a weird feeling that I’m doing something wrong from time to time, but a lot less than I was. Thanks, Michelle!
I was born and grew up in Swindon, home of the ‘magic roundabout’! It confused the heck out of us Swindonians for a while, but you soon got the hang of it. Basically it’s just five roundabouts around a circle. So if you wanted to get to the furthest right exit from where you were entering, you could either choose to go clock-wise around all the mini-roundabouts, or you could go counter-clockwise and get directly to the mini-roundabout with your intended exit on, or if you were heading to the opposite exit to your entrance then you could sort of head straight over, just remembering to give way whenever you encountered a mini-roundabout!! If I remember correctly, for a while they stuck an old double-decker bus in the middle with observers on the top deck to watch the flow of traffic! Thanks for the memory, Leslie 🙂
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Glad to give you a smile, Jane! I will say it’s the cutting through the middle that would probably scare the bejeezus out of me! 🙂
I hate roundabouts. We only have two where I live and they drive me crazy. When we were in Boston, I thought we would be killed on the road with those things and the crazy drivers. Happy Driving on the wrong side of the road in a roundabout way. Jen
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I have “run” into roundabouts in Pennsylvania and in the state of Washington where my oldest and her husband live. The one in Easton, PA had to put up saw horses as barriers to direct drivers to get in the correct lane…go low for turns and high until your turn. And the GPS system we have doesn’t seem to recognize them.
The GPS systems here do recognise them, but you have to worry about whether it’s giving you the correct exit. If there is a gas station or fast food restaurant turn off, sometimes it’s counted in the “take the third exit” and sometimes it’s not. There is no way to know until you either see the sign or get into the roundabout. Thanks, Sheila!
Actually, Leslie, you’ve given a pretty good description of how to drive a roundabout here. If only the rest of my fellow Brits would do it like that! Have you seen/read the Highway Code? It’s required reading for anyone taking a British driving test and last time I looked, which is a considerable number of years admittedly, the description of driving a roundabout was more or less as you’ve described, so well done for that!
Now, roundabouts in countries where they drive on the right really confuse me. I remember once back in the late 70s, we were living in West Africa and spent some time in Cameroun. One day, in a heavy rain storm, we met a roundabout and turned left at it in the British way, clockwise, instead of counter-clockwise. Good job there was no other traffic around at the time or it could have been very nasty!
I love reading your posts on life and travels in the UK so please keep them coming. I can’t remember if you’ve said, but whereabouts are you living?
I am fairly certain the book they give us to read when we arrive is the Highway code (the one I read and my husband didn’t 😉 ) You are lucky about that wrong way though. I always worry about ending up in the wrong lane because it tends to feel right when I’m forced into the right lane for some reason. I can definitely understand how it happened. Thanks, Anji!
My sisters and I might be going back to Ireland and N. Ireland in October. The eldest of us would like to rent a car and drive down to the Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry as well as other stops along the way before going up to N. Ireland for a family wedding. The visual and running commentary in my head when my sister suggested it was of 3 banshees screaming at each other and our hair sticking up and out from the sheer terror of it! I think I have convinced her that a small tour group would be more relaxing for us all!
We have roundabouts here in California and more popping up every day. So far I have not come across a magic one. Hope we keep it that way.lol