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Roundabouts: all you need to know

There are more than 10,000 roundabouts in the UK so here's all the facts from locations to signage.

On most drives in the UK, you're likely to encounter a roundabout.

On most drives in the UK, you're likely to encounter a roundabout.

If you’ve been driving in Europe you may have done your best to avoid the anarchy of the Arc de Triomphe roundabout in Paris, a cobblestone cavalcade seemingly designed to strike fear into the would-be road user.

But the most important factor in our roundabout guide is what you should expect as a driver – so here’s everything you need to know about roundabouts.

Where are they?

There are more than 10,000 roundabouts in the UK, with towns such as Redditch in England and East Kilbride in Scotland well known for featuring dozens of them. There are even some sights to see amid the to-and-fro of roundabout traffic, from the metal-crafted geese of Dunbartonshire’s Stoneymollan roundabout, to the 14th-century Celtic cross nestled in the town centre roundabout of Campbeltown.

A common feature in the UK and Europe, there’s even a UK Roundabout Appreciation Society, documenting their layout and artistic design touches.

What do they do?

Roundabouts form an important bridge between one main highway and other minor roads, and if used properly, allow traffic to flow in a number of directions in an orderly fashion. On some particularly busy roundabouts, traffic lights will be installed at each entrance to allow a steadier flow of traffic.

What you should do…

On approach to a roundabout:

Look at the signage

Imagine yourself approaching any roundabout at ‘six o’ clock’, positioned at the base of any roundabout sign. You’ll know you’re approaching a roundabout because you’ll see a red-trimmed triangular sign with white centre and three circular black arrows.

The approach to mini roundabouts, meanwhile, features a blue-backed circular sign with three white arrows.

Both sets of arrows go in a clockwise direction, reflecting the flow of traffic.

You should also consider whether the roundabout has two or more lanes on approach, like the Edinburgh city bypass, or the many you encounter on travelling into major cities like Manchester and Liverpool. If it does, you need to be prepared to choose one of these, based on your destination, and get in lane.

In this situation, or even if your roundabout approach only has one lane going in your direction, you should be taking the following steps: Mirror, Signal, Position, Speed, Look.

  • Mirror – Use them to check for any traffic behind you, and the speed at which any vehicles are approaching from behind you.

  • Signal – Make sure other road users can see what your intended direction is.

  • Position – Get into the correct lane based on which direction you wish to continue from the roundabout.

  • Speed – Your approach should be within the road’s speed limit, and you should allow plenty of time to slow down based on your distance from the roundabout junction, and whether there are vehicles ahead that are queueing.

  • Look – It’s so important to check right at a roundabout approach, to gauge the amount of traffic coming across your path. There could be large vehicles like lorries, buses, vans with trailers, or even bikes, which are harder to spot. Of course, all traffic will approach to your right. And if you see another car entering a roundabout to your right, always give way; there may be a ‘GIVE WAY’ sign to instruct you to do this.

As well as these checks, pay heed to any other lanes at your roundabout entrance, and check your rear-view mirror for traffic around you.

Roundabout signs

On the approach to roundabouts on ‘primary routes’ (A and B roads) you’ll often see a green sign with white illustration, depicting the upcoming roundabout and the main destinations corresponding to each roundabout exit road. Soon after this, you may also see another green sign with white lettering, guiding you based on your intended direction after the roundabout, with the instruction, ‘GET IN LANE’.

These help you prepare for reaching the roundabout, where you may then encounter a white, inverted triangular sign with a red band around it, meaning you should stop and give way to traffic on the right-hand side. There may be painted signs on the road surface saying ‘SLOW’, too, or a series of subtly raised parallel bands across the road, designed to make you aware of your speed as you drive over them.

Traffic lights

Especially busy or inner-city roundabouts may be controlled by traffic lights, so you’ll need to be ready to slow down in reaction to an amber light, and to come to a stop if it’s red.

Or, you might be able to access the roundabout freely, but there could be traffic lights en route to leaving the roundabout again. In this case, make sure that you’re in the correct lane for leaving the roundabout.

Road markings

Apart from the markings telling you what lane you should be in to get to your chosen destination, you will sometimes encounter white lines marked on the road, coming from the centre of the roundabout. You shouldn’t drive over these; they are designed to guide vehicles along in their correct lane, and protect drivers’ right-hand side when turning right on the furthest inside lane.

Mini roundabouts

Their scale is different, but the same road rules apply for mini roundabouts; give way to the right, and look both ways to check for traffic. And as before, manage your speed and be prepared to stop should another vehicle suddenly approach from your right-hand side.

And while you’re not going to cut across the green spaces of large primary-route roundabouts, you can drive over the ‘hump’ at the centre of the mini-roundabout if there are vehicles parked in a location that prevents you from manoeuvring around it.

Pedestrian crossings

Some roundabout entrances and exits feature pedestrian crossings, where you will be required to give way for pedestrians. Be especially careful when approaching these, as there could be young children and families or elderly people, who are crossing the roads at different walking paces.

Most importantly, stay alert

Be alert, but assertive; if there’s a safe opportunity to enter the roundabout, then set off, provided you’re not going to cause any other drivers to slow down, stop, or veer away to avoid you. From there, you’ll want to position yourself in the correct lane, while being mindful of any traffic lights. Other road users might even want to switch onto your lane within the roundabout, so be alert to any indicators flashing, and if it’s safe to do so, be courteous and let them in.

About the Author

John McCallum

John has been a roundabout enthusiast for more than a decade and has a collection of more than 63 photos.