Thursday, November 05, 2020

learning to drive: beyond handling the car part 2 (roundabouts!)

 (side note: it's now over a year since I've passed my driving test, and I don't remember the individual lessons any more... bummer! I'll still do my best to put everything down)

For reference, all my posts about my driving lessons:

all my notes about driving in the UK

So, so far I had learned stopping and starting, positioning on the road, turns, basic road safety (including traffic lights, pedestrians and crossings) and junctions.

I also managed to drive home with this basic knowledge, which felt great!

There's one precursor to the next topic, and that's changing lanes.

Changing lanes

Lane changing is best done when anticipated well in advance, so it pays to know in advance which lane you need to be in to make the change smooth and efficient. By default, you need to be in the left lane, unless you have a good reason to be in any other one.

Good reasons include:

  • The left lane is an active bus lane that you're not allowed to drive in
  • Car(s) parked in the left lane up ahead (as soon as you see a parked car in the distance, you can change lanes)
  • Turning right
  • Road markings showing the left lane is for left turns only
  • Road markings/signs indicating you need to change lanes (lanes merging, bus lane starting ahead, road work/lane closure etc)
  • Left lane blocked by traffic turning left and the right lane is allowed to go straight
If you have moved to the right lane to pass parked vehicles, you should move back to the left lane after the last parked vehicle, if there are no other parked vehicles in sight ahead - if there are vehicles ahead, you can continue in your lane.
If there's a bus lane in action, and a junction, there will be a marking indicating from where vehicles can enter it for the junction. The arrow will also indicate if other vehicles can enter the bus lane only to turn left at the junction (arrow will point left), or to enter both to go straight and left (arrow will point straight). Also, lane changes are forbidden over solid white lines.
To change lanes, it's mirors, signal, manoeuvre: rearview (to check for vehicles too close or already in the process of changing lanes), mirror on the side you're turning, and then signal if clear and safe. Then, quickly, again, reareview and side mirror, blind spot (over the shoulder), look strsaight again, and if everything clear, change lanes quickly, then cancel the turning signal. If more than one consecutive lane change is required, repeat everything (making sure you turn off the signal after each lane change) - this requires plenty of room and planning!

If moving into the left lane immediately after passing a parked vehicle, and planning to continue straight after the lane change, there is no need to signal left. However, if not done immediately after passing the parked vehicle, you do need to signal besides doing everything else.

Next up: the thing that most people find the most complicated bit about driving (and definitely something I didn't have to deal with in India): Roundabouts!

There are two types of roundabouts: mini roundabouts (mostly just a painted circle, about a foot in diameter, in the centre of a small junction) and all other roundabouts, but the rules are almost the same for both.


Roundabouts will have a sign on approach, and will also have markings indicating each exit. Lanes may be marked for each exit on the road (with arrows marking which directions each lane can be used for), and optionally on signs on the left of the road, or even the median if there is one. If no direction is marked marked for each lane, the left-most lane is always used for exits turning left, right-most lane is used for turning right, If more than one left turning lane is available, vehicles taking the first exit on the left have to be in the left-most lane. On approaching the roundabout, count the number of exits till the one you need to take (starting clockwise from your current position). Make note of dead-ends as well, as those will be marked differently on the roundabout sign. Also make note of the direction in which the desired exit is. Any exit that's left of 11 O'clock is considered a left exit, and any that's right of 1 O'clock is considered a right exit. If taking a right exit, position in the appropriate right lane, and signal right. If taking a left exit, position in the approproate left lane, but ONLY signal left if taking the first exit. No signal if going straight (ie between roughly 11 O'clock and 1 O'clock).

Approaching the roundabout, slow down and prepare to stop, taking all usual precautions (check rearview for tailing vehicles).

If it's a signalled roundabout, and the signal is green, and the path ahead is not blocked, enter the roundabout.

If it's not a signalled roundabout, it's quite complicated:

  • Check the path to your exit: do not enter the roundabout if your path to exit the roundabout is blocked with vehicles that are not moving.
  • Do not enter the roundabout if there is a vehicle already on the roundabout to your right, unless the vehicle has its left signal on, and is turning left off the roundabout - that should be into the road you're exiting. If the left signal is on but the vehicle is not moving left and cannot be clearly observed to be exiting the roundabout, assume the signal has been wrongly turned on - don't enter the roundabout.
  • Do not enter the roundabout if there's a moving vehicle about to enter from your immediate right, even if it's close to the give-way line but not crossed it yet.
  • If there is no vehicle on the roundabout, and no vehicle entering it from your immediate right, proceed to enter the roundabout.
  • If you have stopped at the roundabout, be ready in first gear with clutch at biting point and foot brake held, ready to go. Once there is no vehicle on the roundabout and any vehicle on the right is stopped (ie probably waiting for another vehicle on its right), enter the roundabout immediately.
If there are lanes marked by exit on the roundabout, get into the appropriate lane. If there are lanes but no markings, enter on the left lane if taking an exit on the left, or centre lane if taking an exit that's more than 11 O'clock. Once on the roundabout, speed up to 2nd gear (~15-20mph) if safe to do so. Count the exits as you pass them. Once past the exit before the one you intend to take, is when things happen REALLY quickly: Check your rearview, then left mirror, and signal left. Check your left blind spot (ie head over left shoudler), then head straight ahead facing where you're going, and turn left into the exit. If there's a fair distance between the previous exit and your exit, repeat the left blind spot check before exiting. You must be facing straight before you start to exit.
Once off the roundabout, cancel your left signal. Phew!
One caveat: there is one roundabout in Belfast where the two exits are so near each other that there's no room to signal left. That's the only one where you shouldn't (as you should only signal left AFTER you pass the last exit you are't going to take). Yes, unless someone told you this, you would fail your test if you happened to take that roundabout and signalled left. Talk about exceptions to the rule!

Roundabouts are really hard to get the hang of, and probably take the most practice - any mistake results in a major fault, and even not going when you can counts as "undue hesitation" and gives you a minor fault! Practice is everything, and this is one bit where my instructor came really handy - his patience (and a couple of emergency stops/steers when I made mistakes!) probably saved me from more than one crash while learning! You also have to be 100% bang on with starting quickly and cofidently, because if you take too long to get going, the vehicle on your right will enter the roundabout before you. Holding up traffic due to undue hesitation will also give you a fail.

Mini roundabouts

Mini roundabouts are quite similar to regular roundabouts, with only a couple of rules relaxed (and the roundabout + roads leading to it and exiting would usually be single lane), so a lot less streessful.

Approaching, you'll always want to be pretty slow, as these are going to be quite tight turns, and these will always be in urban areas, and on pretty narrow roads. There's also a likelihood of vehicles being parked on the sides of roads, pedestrians, kids, etc - basically just go really slow. Before the roundabout, you need your turn signal on if turning left or right. As you get to the roundabout (there will be give-way lines), check what's ahead and what's on the right. A mini-roundabout is only big enough to hold one vehicle at any time. If there's a vehicle that's past the give way line,no matter which exit (left, ahead, right) you stop at the give way line. If there's no vehicle inside the roundabout, and there's a vehicle waiting at the roundabout on your right, you give way to it. If there's a vehicle to your left, it would be waiting for you to proceed. The only ambiguity (to me) is when a vehicle is waiting to enter the roundabout from ahead. In this case, the highway code is ambiguous, and it's safest to wait for a bit and proceed if the oncoming vehicle does not proceed. There's a similar ambiguous situation when all 4 roads leading to the mini-roundabout have vehicles waiting. Must be quite rare, as the rules say nothing about what to do in this situation - whoever enters the roundabout first has the right of way.

At this point, I had pretty much covered everything involved with "regular" driving - it was just a matter of practice. Lane changes and roundabouts take LOTS of practice to get perfectly. 45 hours in, my success rate with roundabouts was still not 100% (but luckily, good enough for me to pass :D)

A few weeks of roundabouts down, I was pretty confident, and focusing on learning the quirks of the roads around belfast (tricky roundabouts, junctions where lane signs appear so late that you have to memorise them or you won't be pass your test safely :D).

The only things left then: practice (lots of practice) and a few manoeuvres thast are part of the test!

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