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Roundabouts routines - straight lines, wide lines, stability, view, advantage and risk
A recurring topic is how to deal with roundabouts. Essentially, the problem is that there is a head-on collision between the DVSA approach as taught to new riders which follows the advice in the Highway Code, and advice from advanced sources which often talks about 'straightening out' roundabouts. I've even seen one highly dubious article which advocated turning left from the right-hand side and turning right from the left-hand side race track style. The justification was 'more progress' and you can probably guess by now that I thought that was extremely poor advice because roundabouts are junctions. My first (and last) question to anyone advocating a roundabout as a suitable place to be making progress is "would you speed up through a crossroads?" I think you can guess the answer to that. Here's my own Survival Skills thinking.
Roundabouts are a kind of junction. And anywhere traffic flows cross each other are potentially dangerous places, particularly where the flow - as is the case at most roundabouts - is regulated by 'Give Way' markings. Like any other junction, the point of highest risk is where vehicles on conflicting courses merge and separate again.
Drivers have problems with motorcycles at junctions. Sometimes they look and cannot see the motorcycle because something blocks their view. Sometimes they look and fail to see - there are a number of well-defined reasons for this. And sometimes they see the bike, but misjudge its speed and distance, and commit to a potentially dangerous manoeuvre.
And roundabouts are also places where drivers and riders get confused about each others' intentions. It's not always immediately obvious where another vehicle is going.
I didn't learn any of that from a book. I learned it all by bitter experience as a courier. Put it all together, and my experience tells me that manoeuvres that aim for us to get out the other side a second or two earlier really aren't very sound ones.
The article in question suggested :
"If you wish to turn left or right at the roundabout then (again assuming there is no other traffic about) you will need to maximise the radius of the turn within the constraints of the road-layout".
The diagram shows a left-turn line with a far right approach, clipping the inside kerb and exiting near the centre white line, and the mirror image for a right-turn line - a far left approach, clipping the island and exiting close to the left hand kerb.
Need? Do we NEED to maximise the radius of the turn? Of course not.
But beyond whether it's 'nice' or 'necessary', let's have a think about some genuine concerns with this approach.
Let's start by pointing out that it's entirely the opposite of the 'keep left to turn left, keep right to turn right' approach taught to every new driver. The standard approach is taught for a pair of very good reasons. The first is that our position sends a signal to other road users, just as much as the use of an indicator. So if we're approaching wide left with a right indicator showing, what's the driver to think? Maybe that we've forgotten to cancel the signal. And maybe he or she will believe the position rather than the signal, and pull out. The biggest plus for following the same Highway Code lines around roundabouts as we teach on basic training is that it sends clear and unambiguous signals to other road users - including pedestrians or cyclists who might be crossing the side roads, let us not forget - about our intentions. If everyone stuck to the Highway Code approach, none of us would ever be confused as to what anyone else intended. The moment we start using a non-standard approach, there's a significant risk of confusion - other drivers won't anticipate the manoeuvre. That's when things go pearshaped!
The second reason is defensive. Anyone who's ever watched a race, car or motorcycle, will know that a wide approach to a corner leaves a big gap that anyone wanting to overtake will attempt to exploit. Turning left or right from a wide position opens up a huge hole. We're liable to find a following vehicle attempting to fill it, and if that vehicle's going straight ahead, we have a major problem.
Someone pointed out that the statement about "assuming there is no other traffic about" means we don't need to factor in these issues. But how often can we be ABSOLUTELY certain the junction is completely clear? Few roundabouts have perfect views to the left or right, and many have the ahead view OVER the top of the island deliberately obscured, precisely to make us more circumspect about zooming around the roundabout just as someone coming the other way turns right across our path. And did YOU think of pedestrians and cyclists?
And how far back does "no other traffic" have to extend? What if another vehicle appears just as we commit ourselves to this confusing path? When I see riders exploiting these kind of lines on roundabouts, it's often taken to mean "no other traffic already in my path". Hmm.
But thirdly, I'd have a concern even on a totally deserted roundabout. What should be our biggest concern after conflicts with other traffic? How about the surface? We could find a change of surface, potholes, poorly-finished repairs, gravel and bits of debris just out of sight. And where could any forward-thinking rider reasonably expect to find a diesel or fuel spill? I'd be looking for it on the wide exit to a left turn and a wide exit to a right turn - right where this article suggests we should plan to head.
And my fourth concern would be changing line if a problem emerges. Does this maximum radius line make it easier or more difficult to change direction if we need to take evasive action? If we use the line to carry more speed, the answer's fairly obvous. And if we slow down in case we encounter a problem, what's the benefit of maximising the radius of the turn in the first place? None that I can see.
So I would stick to the 'keep left to turn left, keep right to turn right' approach. But what about going straight ahead? Isn't it safe enough to straighten out a roundabout if it's clear? Isn't it possible to approach on on the left, then clip the island mid-roundabout, then exit back on the left?
This is sometimes called the kerb-kerb-kerb (KKK) line and the "if it's clear" statement is the crucial one.
Some years back, I nearly had two riders - judging by the bibs they were a pair from the local advanced group - buried in the side of my people carrier. I was emerging from a junction, the road was clear to my right so I started to pull forward. Fortunately, I was still checking right because this pair were cutting over the cross-hatched zone designed to force vehicles to the right where they can be seen. The road layout was modified precisely because emerging vehicles cannot see around the hedge belonging to a cottage that's right on the corner to the emerging vehicle's right. If I had been less cautious, I doubt they would have avoided me as I pulled out. We would never keep tight to the left passing a side turning on the left because it restricts our view, but that's what this KKK approach implies. And if you think about it, it also restricts our view of traffic coming around the island from the opposite direction, traffic that might be turning across our path.
On another occasion, it was me using the KKK line and I nearly got taken out by a following Kawasaki rider. Having followed me on my KKK line through the previous three roundabouts, for some reason he tried to out-brake me into the fourth. Fortunately for both of us, I was watching my mirrors and was able to give him room, but had I held my line across the island, he would have speared me. So we don't just need to think about wringing advantage from a roundabout, but to think how we can use our lines to defend our position.
As you can see, I ride with different priorities on roundabouts.
So on Survival: SKILLS two-day course or my one-day Survival: URBAN course?
I look for defensive approaches, not wringing out some marginal 'advantage'. The Highway Code approach line, keeping left when we intend to turn left, or keeping right when we plan on turning right, is a 'blocking' line with respect to following vehicles, and also helps confirm our indicators by sending a clear signal to other road users about where we want to go. The slower, tighter turn may mean less speed around the corner itself, but keeps us away from the likely location of a diesel spill or gravel accumulations, and also makes it easier to change direction - or even stop - if needed. Avoiding a maximum radius line means less speed mid-corner but gets us upright sooner, just like the Survival Skills 'Point and Squirt' - that means we're back on the throttle sooner, and quicker away from the roundabout.
But I have created a variation on the KKK approach - and it works within the Highway Code instructions.
Let's start with self-defence. I'll take the usual Survival Skills approach by analysing what can go wrong. Although we tend to worry about traffic coming round the island from our right, that's not actually the biggest threat because WE choose whether or not to pull out. What we CANNOT control is the driver of a vehicle emerging from our LEFT once we're on the roundabout. It's not a problem if we turning left at the first exit, and it's not too much of an issue when turning right, because we're over by the island and relatively far away. But the recommended Highway Code approach to going straight on - keeping left all the way around the outside of the island - puts us at considerable risk from drivers pulling out in front of us. There's are secondary risk that vehicles may try to overtake or cut the corner on the way off the island. To monitor BOTH threats, we're looking left and over our right shoulder. And finally, if a vehicle does emerge from the left AND we have another alongside on the right, we've no escape route - our only option is an emergency stop.
So here's the Survival Skills approach. Instead of keeping left to go ahead, keep RIGHT. If there's a single approach lane, keep right-of-centre. If there are two or more lanes, use the right-hand lane. Arriving at the island, the first thing that does is give us a slightly better view to our RIGHT, to search for oncoming vehicles turning across our path. This makes pulling onto the island slightly easier. But the big benefits happen once we're on the island. Now ALL the danger is to our LEFT whether a vehicle in the adjacent lane, or a driver who might pull out from the exit ahead of us. That means we only have to look one way until we're off the roundabout. We're also further away from the exit to the left - the driver will have to move a long way to get into our path. And there's one final bonus - if a driver DOES pull out and block our own path, we have an escape route - we can simply do a lap of the island. And if nothing goes wrong, and if our route ahead is clear, we can exit off into the left-hand lane as in the second half of the KKK line. All we have sacrificed is the straightest line onto the island, but if all's clear we can take the straightest line off. And the right-hand lane approach to go straight ahead IS in the Highway Code so there's a lowered risk of confusion.
Understanding risk THEN ACTIVELY SEEKING TO REDUCE IT is at the heart of the Survival Skills approach to riding. 'Progress' comes as a result of having eliminated risk. We should never seek 'advantage' in ways that increase risk. And if we can keep things simple at the same time, then so much the better.
Final point. The impression we make on others matters. If drivers see us ignoring the Highway Code lines, it simply reinforces the negative impressions most other road users hold about motorcyclists, however much we might impress our mates with our lines. Doesn't advanced riding consider 'the other fellow' too?
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