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Tips for tackling roundabouts

Carlton Boyce / 27 October 2015

Confused by roundabouts? Not sure which lane to use? Read our tips and tackle roundabouts safely.

Problems occur when other drivers try and force their way through the roundabout in the wrong lane, either because they have made a mistake or are too impatient to queue in the correct lane

Roundabouts are a peculiarly British solution to road traffic management. Relying mainly on good manners, they are a mystery to many, especially tourists from abroad who are baffled by the why and the how.

They aren’t alone. Introduced to the UK in the 1960s, we now boast more than 10,000 of them, yet many drivers remain confused as to how to approach anything other than a straightforward roundabout.

Think you know the law? Find out about eight new laws that affect motorists.

The basics

The basics are pretty easy to grasp: if you are taking the first exit from a three-exit roundabout you approach it in the left-hand lane (if there is more than one) with your left-hand indicator flashing.

Use your mirrors to make sure that you know what’s around you and be especially vigilant for motorcycles sneaking up in your blind spot.

Treat the entry to the roundabout as a ‘give way’ rather than a ‘stop’, giving priority to traffic that is already on the roundabout. 

As you approach, brake and select the appropriate gear to enable you to filter into the roundabout smoothly when a gap appears. If it’s too busy to do so, brake gently to a halt, before selecting first gear and when the way is clear, you can enter and take the first exit.

Turning left on a roundabout

If you want to take the second exit of (or go straight over) the roundabout, you approach in the left-hand lane, entering when the road is clear. You don’t make any indication until you’ve passed the first exit, at which time you indicate left.

Going straight over a roundabout

To take the third exit (or turn right), enter in the right-hand lane if there is one. Indicate right before entering the roundabout and then change to a left-hand indication after passing the first two exits, before smoothly taking the exit you require.

Turning right on a roundabout

Simple, eh?

More complex roundabouts

More complex roundabouts will have more exits, but the system for moving around them remains the same. In many respects, they are as easy to negotiate as simple ones because there will usually be road markings to guide you into the right lane.

Problems occur when other drivers try and force their way through the roundabout in the wrong lane, either because they have made a mistake or are too impatient to queue in the correct lane.

Patience is, as ever, the best way to deal with them, frustrating though it might be. As Peter Rodger, the IAM’s chief examiner says: “At roundabouts, it is useful to try and consider the whole thing as one manoeuvre – that way you have a plan about which lane to be in, when to move into that lane, and what signals you expect to use. But you need to prepare to be flexible – other road users don’t always behave as we’d expect them to.”

Did you know that you can be penalised for driving inconsiderately? Find out about the middle lane hog fine.

The Magic Roundabout

Few roundabouts will prove as challenging as the infamous Magic Roundabout (yes, that’s its real name) in Swindon. Designed and built in 1972, it features five smaller roundabouts orbiting a larger one than runs the opposite way to a normal one!

Impossibly complex yet fiendishly clever, navigating it is much easier than you might imagine when you are actually driving around it.

Beware of the ‘Flash for Cash’ scam

Do you remember when you first took your driving test and you were told that when another motorist flashes their headlights it means ‘Beware, I am here!’ and not ‘I’m letting you out’? Well, it’s just as true now as it was then because a new breed of criminal will flash at you on a roundabout or other road junction.

You think they’re being kind enough to let you out in front of them but when you do so, they will deliberately bump into you, allowing them to make an inflated insurance claim (or even demand cash on the spot) for damage to their car, in addition to claiming for personal injuries to themselves and their passengers. The easiest to avoid falling prey is to ignore another motorist’s flashed headlights, no matter how well meaning they might appear.

Read more about roadside scams.

Surprising fact

There is a flourishing Roundabout Appreciation Society as well as a book, Roundabouts of Great Britain, which goes to show that while we might find them confusing at times, we are as much in love with them as we’ve ever been! 

Visit our motoring section for more tips and hints.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.