A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Hooptedoodle #173 – Swines & Roundabouts

Because my parents never owned a car until after I had left home, and because I spent my youth living in cities, with not a lot of money (in the days before boundless credit card balances), I did not learn to drive until I was in my thirties. Which means that I had a young family before I owned a car, and that I missed out completely on the Boy Racer thing.

I enjoy driving – I am not especially slow on a journey, I believe, but I particularly enjoy the freedom from strain that comes from trying to drive politely and considerately, not taking risks, sticking to the rules – especially the speed limits. Defensive driving – you can’t beat it. I was taught to drive (in the sense of “I was guided through my driving test”) by a guy named Derek, who had previously been a driving instructor in the army, and he was a diamond. He made driving a sensible, logical, low-stress process based very largely on awareness and consideration for others. One of his catch-phrases is still with me – still plays in my head.

“The things which cause more accidents on the road than anything else are surprises,” said Derek. People going at the wrong speed, using the wrong lane, changing direction without signalling – all that sort of thing. “Surprises” is a broad category, but it does cover a lot of ground. We are all safer if we have a good idea what is going to happen next, what that driver over there is doing.

Some things contain an element of surprise just because that is the way they are; some things are designed badly, so that surprises can result (I have never understood, for example, the British fetish with landscaping slip-roads joining a motorway so that you cannot see the traffic which is about to be dumped into your lane until it arrives); some surprises are just a result of misunderstandings, or thoughtlessness, or stupidity. None of them are helpful.

I am, of course, leading up to a whinge.

My wife is currently recovering from a broken bone in her shoulder, so one of the things she is unable to do is drive. This means that I am the duty chauffeur for the school run – morning and evening – and it means I have increased my daily exposure to what passes for the rush hour traffic in these parts. Understand that I am not talking about the M25 here, but I am talking about the A1 – the main road from Edinburgh to London – at times of day when people wish to be somewhere else very soon, thank you very much, so get out of the way.

Great - assuming the procedure is clear and universally understood
Now then - roundabouts. I am a fan. They are not universally popular, but you know where you are with a roundabout. In the UK, you normally give way to anyone who is already on the roundabout, which (since we drive on the left, and circumnavigate our roundabouts clockwise) means you give way to traffic coming from your right. Dead easy. This has been complicated a little by the introduction of big, spiral roundabouts with defined lanes and traffic lights – these are good things if everyone follows the rules and nobody changes lanes or runs the red light, but they have introduced some different procedures and also a little confusion. There is also some additional complication introduced by rude or aggressive driving, and by simple ignorance of the rules.

Here is a photograph of the roundabout at which I am currently averaging about 2 to 3 slightly sweaty “moments” a week. My son’s school bus stops in a supermarket car park beyond exit A. When I am/we are on our way home again I have to emerge from the slip road at A, travel (clockwise) round the island and take the 3rd exit, along the A1 at B. To do this I wait for a suitable gap in the traffic, enter the roundabout, signalling right, keep right (adjacent to the island), signalling left as I pass the 2nd exit and then moving over to exit at point B in the left-hand lane.

The problem is that it is not unknown for traffic coming up the main road from C (and also aiming to exit at B) to attempt to overtake me on the roundabout on my left. It’s usually a guy in a tradesman’s van, but yesterday it was a well-groomed young lady in a well-groomed, white Honda CR-V. She had to brake fairly hard to avoid me as I moved across to rejoin the A1, and she wasn’t pleased.

Obviously I surprised the young lady – Derek would have been disappointed. I am not clear what else I could have done – I suppose I could have joined the continuing A1 in the outside lane, heading towards B, allowing the Honda to “undertake” me on my left, but I’m pretty sure that’s not correct either. As far as I am aware, the Honda should give way to me because I am on her right, and already on the roundabout. The fact that she is in a hurry and thinks that there is room to pass me on the roundabout is immaterial.

If I am mistaken then clearly I must change the way I behave on a roundabout, but the real disappointment is that there are lots of people negotiating lots of roundabouts all over Britain every day, and my 2 to 3 incidents a week at a relatively calm junction suggests that there is a lack of clear understanding of the rules. Maybe it’s me – but I don’t think so.  


  1. Strangley my driving instructor was ex-army too and I passed my test at 17. I really hated my driving lessons with him and I'm sure this is why I passed first time. In answer to your query - as I remember I think you are completely correct in your road positioning but it might be less stressful if you made the manoeuvre while talking on your mobile, eating a Twix and with your eyes fimly closed...

    1. Well, two out of three isn't bad...

  2. Derek gave you good advice. My own advice to new drivers is to treat the surprises dished out by other drivers as acts of nature, like random hail showers, rather than to take them personally. I am continually surprised by the number of incidents of road rage reported in my local paper.
    The province of Ontario has become quite fond of roundabouts in recent years. Most people have adjusted to them, but there are still some nervous moments when I meet people who don't understand the basic rule of yielding to someone already in the circle. Mind you, our roundabouts are found on quieter suburban and urban roads and not on highways like the one you describe on your daily route.

    1. Derek also told me that in the army they used to say that people who regularly became angry whilst driving were basically frightened - some people make driving more interesting by tailgating the car in front or cutting people up on the motorway or driving too fast for the conditions - the adrenaline generated makes them "lose the rag" easily. Not sure about that, but if I become angry in a car it is usually because someone gave me a scare, so maybe there's something in it.

      Derek thought it was amusing to take pity on aggressive or red-faced or gesticulating drivers because they were just frightened, poor things.

  3. Having checked Googlemaps I find I was correct in identifying this as ASDA at Dunbar - I passed along the A1 here just last week. It is far from being the most challenging roundabout but I have seen several other drivers make the most inexplicable hash of it.

    1. Well spotted, Watson. I think the problem is mainly with northbound traffic, and it has been suggested that it is the first interruption in the final dual-carriageway blast into Edinburgh, and drivers do not wish to be delayed (by other cars, or issues such as safety, presumably). Whatever, it is a scary place at times.

      Come to think of it, my wife had a very nasty blow-out at exactly this same roundabout about 12 years ago - well, to be more precise, it was one of the tyres on her car! That was the last time we let Tom Farmer's boys talk us into taking the budget tyres as an option.

    2. When heading north this is pretty much the start of having to do things other then switch the cruise control off and on but it's been there a while now and there are warning signs. For those of us who notice them...

    3. Heading north this is a strange bit of road - after all the slow stuff past Torness and so on, the traffic gets on a decent bit of dual carriageway and they're off. First bit of bad news for rookies is the weird right turn across the road into south Dunbar - a lot of feverish braking and switching lanes - then there is a speed camera (watch the brake lights come on, especially the wallies who are doing 60 and don't know how fast they are going or what the speed limit is), then there is a nippy little bend to the left and then (if you haven't spotted the signs, as you say) the roundabout suddenly appears in front of you.

      Apart from this roundabout, and the more unpleasant one at Thistly Cross (the next junction), that's all the complicated bits until you get to leave the A1 to join the A720 (Edinburgh bypass), and then the roundabout at Sherrifhall, where the A7 crosses over (not for the faint hearted). Otherwise it's just a 70mph run straight through.

      Another interesting feature of the Spott roundabout (the ASDA one) is that the road off to Spott really goes off into the wilds in the Lammermuirs, and there are a lot of tractors and stuff on the A1 in this area - it is not a road to be driven without paying attention!

  4. For the most part Australians seem to be well-behaved in roundabouts, with minimal undertaking and such. Our driving culture's biggest problem is that people have forgotten what indicators are for. These days many motorists seem to believe that the little lights have been installed to celebrate a successful lane change after the fact. Every day I see people change lanes without indicating, only to switch the thing on when they're already astride the white line. What purpose they think is served by this escapes me. Luckily for we defensive drivers they have a habit of nudging the white line once or twice before they make the decision to actually pull over, so I can work out what they're about to do.
    One possible reason for the reluctance to use indicators, especially on freeways, is the other new habit people have acquired, of speeding up to close any gap in traffic when they see someone wanting to change lanes to avoid ending up an extra car back. Apparently the extra second or two that may be gained later is worth the risk and rudeness of cutting people off. As a result, drivers feel the need to duck into a gap without warning lest it be stolen from them.
    The worst type of intersection I've encountered is in North America, where instead of a roundabout many four-way junctions have stop signs on all corners. There is a rule for using this system, but as a foreigner on a brief visit I couldn't get the hang of it and nearly got cleaned up by a speeding log truck in British Columbia.

    1. Hi Steve - well observed and described! - these are familiar here, too.

      The late/nonexistent signal seems to have an element of fashion. When I was starting to drive, it was regarded as a characteristic of elderly drivers that they would/might catch the indicator as part of the action of turning the wheel, so that it served, not as a warning, but as a confirmation that they had intended to make a turn - it was not simply that your eyes were deceiving you or that the car was out of control. That always irritated me - partly as a reaction I always make a point of signalling some seconds in advance - especially on motorways. Recently I saw a comedy show on TV which makes a point of saying rude things about senior citizens, and one of the comments that produced hysteria in the audience was the tale of pensioner who signalled 100 yards before he turned. Hmmm. He had, we observe, lived long enough to perfect this characteristic, so there is an alternative message there.

      The business of leaving no gaps is particularly interesting. I am prepared to bet that a random questionnaire would reveal that a large proportion of the population believe that if you are travelling 6 feet behind the car in front then you are going faster than if you were 100 feet behind. Of course, I blame the teachers...