How to drive spiral roundabouts
How to drive spiral roundabouts is the one thing I’ve been asked about more than any other in my 20+ years as a driving instructor.
Also known as gyratory roundabouts, this is a topic many people don’t understand and even experienced drivers struggle to drive them properly.
Let me explain how to drive spiral roundabouts easily.
This video demonstrates two gyratory roundabouts.
Use the links below to skip to the part you want:
Spiral roundabouts explained
I have trained driving instructors that make spiral roundabouts so complicated that it’s no wonder their pupils struggle.
They get out drone footage on their tablets. They start using confusing terminology like gyratory systems, keeping the nearside tyre equidistant to the apex of the chasing lane. What?!?
An expert is someone who can explain something complicated in a very simple way and so here is how I teach spiral roundabouts: keep left.
Approaching the roundabout
Have this in your mind when approaching a roundabout, or most junctions for that matter:
Plan to stop but be ready to go!
You must always be able to stop but here is a vital point.
If you are being taught to just stop every time when you get to a roundabout then change your driving instructor. That is a sign that you have not been taught one of the most fundamental skills correctly and this fault will ruin most elements of your driving and make everything more difficult. See my tips on what to avoid when choosing an instructor on my page signs of a bad driving instructor.
The whole point of roundabouts is to control traffic and one way they do that is to keep it flowing. You are supposed to slow down and then make progress by continuing when it’s safe to do so.
This video shows how to do it properly.
How to properly approach roundabouts.
Choosing which lane to use on spiral roundabouts
As you approach the spiral roundabout you need to choose the correct lane.
Most drivers just guess which one is correct because they have no system in place to make it easy.
Where people go wrong is they think “The left lane goes left, the middle lane goes ahead and the right lane goes right”.
Just because that’s correct for some, even most, doesn’t mean it’s right for all of them.
You must treat each roundabout individually because there is no universal design for them all. There is however a universal system – keep left.
Each roundabout is individual
The left lane can often be used to go ahead. The left lane can even go right, in which case you use that to go right and not the right lane. Sometimes the right lane goes left and on some roundabouts, all the lanes go the same way!
If you have any preconceived ideas in your head about which lane goes where then stop doing that.
You must approach each roundabout with an open mind as to which lane goes where.
You can move the image below by dragging it with your finger/cursor. Have a good look, follow the lanes and see if you can follow the correct path.
The left lane goes right on this roundabout.
That’s all you need to do – it’s easy!
Look at the leftmost lane on the sign or road markings. Does that go the way you want to go?
If yes, then that’s your lane. Move on to the next part.
If no, then look at the next lane over to the right.
Where people go wrong with this simple rule is that say “But you said always use the left lane and it doesn’t go the way I want!”.
No, I didn’t say always use the left lane. I said keep left.
Keeping left does not mean always using the left lane as I show above on the map. It means to keep as far left as you can, which might be the right-hand lane.
When to use the lane further to the right
Sometimes, as with the roundabout shown on Google Maps above, there is more than one lane that goes the same way.
If two lanes go ahead to the same place, the rightmost one is for overtaking.
Look at the lanes in the image below. As with the map image above, you can move the scene around with your finger/cursor and follow the lanes.
You’ll see that the middle lane and the right lane both go ahead. It isn’t wrong to be in the right lane if you’re going ahead but as the saying goes in driving tests “A better lane is available”.
This is because of rule 264 in the Highway code which states:
Keep in the left lane unless overtaking. If you are overtaking, you should return to the left lane when it is safe to do so.Highway Code
There is one thing to remember about this rule: sometimes two lanes go ahead but to different places or different roads. Even though they both go ahead, you might only be able to use one of them to go the way you want to go. This will be shown in signage or on the floor with abbreviations as shown in the video at the top of this page.
For example, lane 2 goes ahead to Solihull and lane 3 goes ahead to Birmingham. Even though they both go ahead, only one goes the way you want to go so you use that one.
Roadworks and other unusual situations
If there are roadworks present as shown in the image below, then the same rules apply.
You still keep as far left as you can, as close to your original path as you can.
It’s normally easier when there are roadworks due to there being fewer lanes available and often only one. Some people miss the roadworks on spiral roundabouts when they go!
The map below shows some cones in the lanes. Move the map with your finger/cursor and you’ll see the cones are only on the approach to the roundabout and not around it.
That means you could go from the centre lane to the far right if you were turning right on the roundabout – usually wrong but not in this case as there won’t be anyone coming from the coned-off lane. At least there shouldn’t be but it’s worth checking.
Here’s another unusual situation – the police are laying a stinger trap for someone!
A stinger spike is used to deflate the tyres on a vehicle that is being pursued by the police.
If you end up in this situation then you’ve already done something really wrong.
Follow your lane, not the roundabout
An incredible number of drivers have an obsession with swerving into the right lane no matter which way they are going.
Based on having spent hundreds of hours of my life teaching spiral roundabouts and witnessing all sorts of driving abilities, I would say at least 95% of drivers make this mistake.
This is because people normally start by learning smaller roundabouts where they hug the roundabout as they go around, staying close to it until it’s time to exit. They then carry that habit over to spiral roundabouts where it will not work.
Something I teach my pupils which really helps is:
Follow the lane, not the roundabout.
If you are having a problem with spiral roundabouts then this is almost certainly what you’re doing wrong.
All you need to do is stay in your lane as shown in the video at the top of this page.
This is best explained in the video above but imagine the lanes are numbered from left to right.
Lane 1 on the approach goes to lane 1 on the roundabout.
Lane 2 on the approach goes to lane 2 on the roundabout.
It really is that simple but many people insist on constantly moving to the right so they go from lane 1 on approach to lane 2 on the roundabout.
The most important thing
Did you know you can fail a driving test even if you drive the spiral roundabout perfectly?
And did you know you can get it wrong and still pass?
This is because of one thing: being aware of what’s happening around you.
There is no point in driving spiral roundabouts properly if you haven’t seen danger around you, as I demonstrate in the video at the top of this page.
If you get the lanes wrong but know there is nobody around you then you can pass a driving test. If you get the lanes correct but weren’t checking your mirrors then you can fail!
Being aware of your surroundings is more important than just getting the lanes correct.
Now you know how to drive spiral roundabouts
So that’s how to drive spiral roundabouts.
- Stay as far left as you can at all times.
- Follow that lane.
- Be aware of your surroundings.
People always want to overcomplicate things but it really is that simple.
As with anything in life, you need to practice it over and over and you still may not get it right every time. If you follow the tip above in the section “The most important thing” then you’ll be fine.
See a page on Beckett’s farm roundabout which people often mess up on their driving test from Kings Heath.
Visit the 1stDrive YouTube channel for more on spiral roundabouts.