Contact Us   Site Map
Airline Mismanagement

Roundabouts can be a very good way of managing traffic.

 

They are to be found everywhere in Britain.

This information will ensure you too can master roundabouts.

 
 
Travel Planning and Assistance
Road Warrior resources
How to Book and Buy Travel
Scary, Silly and Stupid Security Stories
Airline Reviews
Airline (Mis)!Management
Miscellaneous Features
Reference Materials
About the Travel Insider
Search
Looking for something else? Search over two million words of free information on our site.
Custom Search
 
Free Newsletter

In addition to our feature articles, we offer you a free weekly newsletter with a mix of news and opinions on travel related topics.

 

 View Sample
Privacy Policy

 
Help this Site
Thank you for your interest in helping this site to continue to develop. Some of the information we give you here can save you thousands of dollars the next time you're arranging travel, or will substantially help the quality of your travel experiences in other, non-cash ways. Click for more information
 
Reader's Replies

If you'd like to add your own commentary, send me a note.

 

How to Drive Around Roundabouts

Efficient and effective once you understand them, a little bit scary prior to then.
 

Swindon Magic Roundabout

The 'Magic Roundabout' in Swindon is a monstrous complexity of five roundabouts within a larger roundabout.

Fortunately, you'll seldom encounter anything like this while driving in Britain (or anywhere else).

Part of our series on Driving in Britain.  Links to other pages at the bottom.

 

 

A fear expressed by many people when considering driving in Britain is going around the roundabouts that are so commonly in use there.

Roundabouts may seem unfamiliar and complicated the first time you go through one, but when you appreciate the simple rules for how they operate, you too can confidently and safely pass through them and come to like them, just like the British themselves.

Although uncommon in the US, they are slowly becoming more widespread here, so even if you have no immediate plans to travel to Britain, you may find this helpful for your local US travels too.

We write about roundabouts in massive detail on this page, but they are really quite simple.

A Short History of Roundabouts (or 'Traffic Circles' or 'Rotaries')

The concept of the modern roundabout - a circular flow of traffic where merging traffic gives way to traffic already in the circle - was developed by British engineers in the early 1960s.

Prior to that time, there had been other types of rotary junctions/interchanges, but typically they gave priority to entering traffic rather than to traffic already in the interchange.

Modern roundabouts are slowly spreading to the US, although they are common in other countries, and the country with the most roundabouts is actually France rather than Britain (about 30,000 in France).  In comparison, in 2010, there were thought to be about 2,000 in the US.

Although they seem confusing and - by extension - dangerous, they are in reality, very safe.  A US study showed that roundabouts had 40% fewer vehicle collisions, 80% fewer injuries and 90% fewer serious injuries and fatalities compared to the junctions they replaced.

In countries where traffic keeps to the right (such as the US) traffic flows around the roundabout in an anti-clockwise direction - that is, you turn to the right to enter the roundabout.  In countries where they drive on the left - notably the UK of course - traffic flows in a clockwise direction.

Roundabouts offer a more efficient way of allowing traffic to move through a junction, not only more safely, but with fewer delays as well.  They also allow U-turns without risk or interruption to the rest of the traffic.

They work best in cases where traffic levels are moderate and somewhat balanced.  Unfortunately, with the ever increasing amounts of traffic on British roads, many roundabouts that were once effective and efficient have become more complicated, with various 'workaround' solutions adding to the complexity of them - in particular, roundabouts with three or four lanes around them, and traffic lights at various points around the roundabout.

If you approach roundabouts confidently and correctly, you'll come to like them, most of the time, and use them safely and well.

Entering the Roundabout

Unless there are signs to the contrary, the basic rule at a roundabout is that traffic in the roundabout has priority, and traffic entering the roundabout has to give way to traffic in and exiting the roundabout.

However - and this is a key point.  You do need to give way to traffic already in the roundabout; but you do not need to stop, and you can simply merge into the traffic already in the roundabout.

In other words, do not stop when entering the roundabout unless there is a solid wall of traffic going around the roundabout preventing your safe entry.  You do not need to wait until there is no visible traffic already in the roundabout.  If you can safely fit into the line of vehicles already in the roundabout, you should do so.

Try and merge into the roundabout traffic, the same way you merge into a freeway.  And, just like merging on a freeway, the key is not to stop unless you have to - it is much easier to merge into a small space when traveling at the same speed.

If you stop for no reason, there is a danger that a car behind you will fail to notice and will rear-end you.  As drivers approach a roundabout, they have to split their focus between the car in front and the traffic already in the roundabout.  If things look clear, it is easy to make an assumption that the driver in front will of course keep on moving, because that is what a sensible driver would do based on the traffic already in the roundabout.  So, with this assumption, the driver behind focuses to see if there will be a chance for him to move into the roundabout too.

If you've stopped unnecessarily, the driver behind may not notice this and may rear-end you.  The other side of this coin is to beware of bad drivers in front of you, and never to assume they will act appropriately.

Which Lane to Use Entering the Roundabout

Many - most - roundabouts have two lanes for traffic entering them.  If you will be taking the very first exit, you should be in the left lane.  If you will be taking the last exit, you should be in the right lane.  If you are taking one of any other exits, use your best judgment as to which lane to be in.

Sometimes there might be signs prior to the roundabout guiding you as to which lane you should be in.

Driving Around the Roundabout

Now that you have entered the roundabout you will probably have right of way as you go around it, and if there are any exceptions to this rule, they will be clearly signposted for you to know.

Your concerns at this stage are to follow the flow of traffic, and to be in the appropriate lane to be able to exit at the appropriate exit to the roundabout.

As you go around the roundabout, if it is a multi-lane roundabout, you'll need to move over to the exit lane in time for your exit.  This can be a bit difficult; be sure to indicate and keep a careful eye on the cars in front and alongside as you change lanes.

Worst case scenario - if you miss your exit, don't worry.  Just go around again, as many times as you like, until you get it all sorted out.

Exiting the Roundabout

If you're on a major road into the roundabout and exiting on the same or another major road, and if the entry into the roundabout was two lanes, you'll probably also have two lanes to exit as well, so you can be in either of the two outer lanes when approaching that exit.

If you're on a minor road, or exiting to a minor road, and of course if the roundabout is only one lane anyway, then things are easier.

Signaling Your Way Around the Roundabout

While you are driving around a one lane roundabout, you should be signaling a right hand turn as you drive around it, to tell drivers waiting to enter the roundabout that you're continuing on around.

When you approach your exit, you should signal a left hand turn to show drivers waiting to merge into the roundabout that you're going to exit, telling them it is safe for them to pull into the roundabout.

Obviously, do not start to signal a left turn/exit if there is another exit prior to the one you will take.

If you are in a multilane roundabout, you don't need to signal anything, except for when changing lanes, and if you are in the outermost lane and about to exit.

Observing the Lanes

Be careful to always stay in your lane except for when you have clearly signaled and the way is clear for you to change lanes.

In particular, if you are exiting the roundabout with a two lane exit, be careful not to drift across from one lane to the other.  Stay exactly in your lane.

Remember that all cars have blind spots, and you're probably in an unfamiliar rental car with unfamiliar blindspots to start with.

And then, the whole geometry of everything is a bit different when going around in circles rather than in straight lines, and so for these reasons it is important to be very careful to stay in your lane and to check when changing lanes.

Special Types of Roundabouts

In addition to ordinary roundabouts, there are a some special case roundabouts you might sometimes encounter.

Mini-Roundabout

One of these is the 'mini-roundabout' where two roads come to an intersection, and there's a round white circle in the middle of the road - perhaps slightly raised up, perhaps not.

In such cases, you could even drive straight through the intersection and over the top of the middle part of the 'roundabout', depending on how much it might be raised up.  Quite a few people do this, but you are not supposed to by law (with dispensations for trucks that might otherwise have difficulty with the fairly tight turning circle).

These mini-roundabouts are intended to indicate that 'roundabout rules' apply at the intersection and to slow traffic down somewhat.

Multiple concatenated roundabouts

The other type of roundabout is the multiple roundabout where one roundabout feeds immediately into a second (and possibly then into a third).

These multiple roundabouts can make for some scary looking traffic signs before you reach them, but once you get into them, they are exactly the same as normal roundabouts, just closer together than is usually the case.

Magic roundabouts

In their ultimate form, a series of roundabouts can end up as a 'magic roundabout', with perhaps the best known (but not most extreme) example being in Swindon, on the edge of the Cotswolds and pictured at the top of this article.

The Swindon roundabout is at a junction of five roads, and there are five small roundabouts at each road junction point, and two lane traffic going in both clockwise (outer circle) and anti-clockwise (inner circle) directions, giving cars a choice of in effect going left or right around the roundabout.

This sounds terribly confusing, and perhaps it is best experienced in person rather than attempting to explain it.  The locals have ended up appreciating this roundabout very much, and it works very effectively.

The Three Dangers of Roundabouts

There are three common areas of potential danger that you need to be aware of in a roundabout.

The first is if the car in front of you unexpectedly stops instead of smoothly entering into the roundabout to start with.  Keep an eye on the car in front at this time.

The second is with lane changes - either you mess up when you are changing a lane, or perhaps a car alongside messes up and changes lane right into you.  Always be very aware of the cars on either side of you.

The third is if a car misunderstands your intentions and pulls into the roundabout in front of you, cutting you off.  Try not to give confusing indications that might cause another driver to misunderstand what you are and will be doing.

But, having said that, remember that roundabouts are much safer than conventional junctions, and also get you through them with less delay.

A bit of practice, and you'll be happily going through them, the same as everyone else.  Enjoy!

For the last word on roundabouts, here is the British Highway Code's statement of official rules and guidelines for roundabouts.

For More Information About Driving in Britain

Our Driving in Britain series has four main pages plus two additional pages about other important issues to do with driving in Britain.

The pages are :

An Introduction to Driving in Britain - tells you the basic essentials to do with driving in Britain.

Driving Techniques and Issues - about one lane roads and motorways (freeways), speed limits and enforcement.

Miscellaneous Considerations when Driving in Britain - All sorts of other things, ranging from the price of petrol to drink driving and seatbelt rules.

How to Drive around Roundabouts (this is the page you are on)- for information about driving around the roundabouts that are prevalent in Britain (and elsewhere too).

We also have a page about How to Drive on the Left (Other) Side of the Road which sets out some helpful tips and pointers for how to make this as easy as possible.

And, not so much about driving, but still an important aspect of driving, see also our page about where and how to park your car in Britain.

If so, please donate to keep the website free and fund the addition of more articles like this. Any help is most appreciated - simply click below to securely send a contribution through a credit card and Paypal.

 

Originally published 12 May 2011, last update 02 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 
Related Articles
An Introduction to Salisbury, Wiltshire, England
Where to stay in Salisbury
Where to eat in Salisbury
Touring by car around the Salisbury area

Other UK travel info
How to Find the Best London Underground Ticket Pricing
How to Best Travel on the London Underground
All about London's Five Airports
How to Travel around Britain by Train
Day Tours from London by Train
How to choose the best Britrail Pass
Britrail Pass options and issues
London Pass for discounted sightseeing in London
Great British Heritage Pass for discounted sightseeing in Britain
Traveling to Scotland's Islands
 

Your Feedback

How Would You Rate this Article

Poor
Average
Good

Was the Article Length and Coverage

Too short/simplistic
About right 
Too long/complex

Would You Like More Articles on this Subject

No
Maybe
Yes