Extra risks face motorists wherever roads meet and diverge, whether at crossroads, T-junctions, roundabouts or forks, but by using the techniques of advanced driving and applying a systematic approach, junctions can be dealt with as safely as any other part of the road system. Accidents do not 'just happen' of their own accord — they are caused by bad driving. While you should always take extra care at junctions, you must recognise that they present an ideal opportunity for other road users to cause trouble. We have all seen other drivers adopt their own odd ways of approaching junctions and navigating their way through them. Be on your guard, therefore, for what a road safety expert might describe as 'an accident waiting to happen'.
The most opportunities for error, whether on your part or another road user's, occur at crossroads. When you are approaching on the minor route, or when neither route has precedence, plan ahead and be prepared to stop even though the signs may tell you only to give way. If your side of the road is wide enough for two lanes of traffic, ensure that you start moving into the correct one at an early stage after first checking your mirror and signalling accordingly. Stay in the left-hand lane if you intend to go straight across unless lane markings tell you to do otherwise, since keeping in the right-hand lane can dangerously mislead other motorists; besides, the right-hand lane at many crossroads is arranged so that travelling straight on inconveniences or even endangers other road users as you slot back into a single line of traffic. Even if there is insufficient room for doubling up the traffic lanes, it is still better to edge over to the side corresponding with the route you will follow as you leave the junction.
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Straight ahead or turning left
When planning to go straight ahead or turning left, the procedure is relatively simple: wait until the road is clear to right and left, check that nothing is approaching from the opposite minor road and accelerate smartly away. Always watch, however, for one common cause of accidents. An oncoming vehicle signalling to turn left will lead you to expect it to turn off at the crossroads and not interfere with your intended path, but indicators can be left on by mistake. The driver may be planning to go straight ahead without realising that he is telling other road users otherwise. Never assume that a vehicle will turn until you actually see the driver begin moving into another road. If you pull out in front of him and cause a collision, the law would be unlikely to favour you.
Try to keep impatience under control when you are trying to turn left and traffic is heavy. A gap might look big enough for you to slip into if you accelerate hard enough and the driver behind slows down, but do not do it. Apart from being dangerous when the margins are slender, this sort of driving is discourteous. An accident could happen if the other driver is slow to react, if your engine falters or if you simply misjudge your move. This is a quite unnecessary risk just for the sake of shaving a few seconds off your journey time. Everyone knows the saying: it is better to be a few minutes late in this world than a few years early in the next.
Right turns at crossroads can be more complicated, although they are governed by the same rules about not pushing in or taking indicator signals for granted. There can be confusion if opposing traffic is also turning right as drivers decide whether to pass offside-to-offside or vice versa. Half of the country's drivers seem to favour one way, the other half the other. However, there is only one safe rule, and that is to pass offside-to-offside; in other words, pass behind an opposing vehicle waiting to turn right. Do otherwise only when road markings or the junction layout dictate it. Some drivers seem to object to this procedure because it can limit the number of vehicles able to get through a right turn in one traffic light sequence, as well as requiring a gap to be left in an opposing line of vehicles waiting to turn right, but it is much safer. It means that each driver has a clearer view down the road ahead as he makes his turn. The nearsideto-nearside approach, where vehicles turn across the bows of the opposing line of traffic, forces each driver to nose out blindly across the traffic stream, greatly increasing the chances of an accident. It is hardly surprising that so many collisions happen when a driver is turning right.
Courtesy at the crossroads
Using the more major of the two routes at a crossroads does not entitle you to drive as you like. Show courtesy and consideration to other road users, but not so excessively that you put politeness before practicality. By all means let someone out of a side turning if it is safe for you to do so, but it is dangerous and disruptive of traffic flow if you have to cause other drivers behind to brake. Misplaced courtesy can cause accidents if drivers around you are not expecting it. Let someone trying to pull out of a side road wait a little longer if you are in any doubt.
Never take advantage of traffic light changes to try to nip through a junction and save yourself time. An alarming number of accidents in our towns and cities are caused by drivers trying rashly to save a few seconds, and the victims are often pedestrians. You should stop if you can reasonably do so when green changes to amber, and you must certainly never pass through the lights after amber has changed to red. Nor should you anticipate the change to green by moving away on red and amber; by all means keep an eye on the lights controlling the routes crossing your path so that you have advance warning of when your lights are to change, but do not use this to take liberties with the lights.
Since local authorities do not usually give much warning of filter lights ahead, sooner or later on an unfamiliar road you will probably find yourself sitting at a green left-turn filter when you want to go straight on. Even a brief pause will probably bring the sound of horns from behind. You could sit there waiting for the all-green phase, but it is far less selfish to make the turn and find an alternative way of getting back on to your route.
The rules outlined for procedure at crossroads apply equally to T-junctions: do not muscle your way into traffic flow on the assumption that other drivers will slow down for you, and always be aware that the vehicle with its indicator flashing may not make the turn out of your path which you expect it to.
Many T-junctions have a mini slip-road so that you can merge more easily with the traffic flowing on the main road. In fact they are often designed only to avoid a slow-speed 90-degree turn on to a busy main road, and generally do not offer sufficient width or length to allow you to reach the speed of the main traffic flow before you slot in. Treat these slip-roads with care: hold back if you have any doubts and wait for a suitable break in the traffic. All the same, do not be too timid at those slip-roads which are wide and long enough to work well. Use them as they are intended to be used, like a motorway slip-road. If you do come across an over-cautious driver who has stopped at the end of the slip-road waiting for a break in the traffic, accelerate smartly and move out into the main road early, provided that it is safe to do so, in order to be in the main stream before you pass the stationary vehicle.
Hanging back at roundabouts can be just as unnecessary. You should strike the right balance between reserve and haste by making a decisive, safe entry into the traffic flow. Large roundabouts carry fast-moving traffic but often provide enough width for you to move into the nearside lane and build up your speed to match the flow of traffic around you. Small roundabouts have less acceleration space, but you need less room because traffic moves more slowly. Roundabouts are designed for maximum flow and easy entry at junctions where traffic is heavy, so do not queue unthinkingly at the approach roads. When traffic is light enough, it should be possible to enter a roundabout where visibility is good only with a reasonable reduction in speed and a change to a lower gear, all the time checking as you run up to the entry point that no vehicles are coming from the right. Where walls or hedges obscure visibility it may be necessary to slow down almost to a stop. Except where the priorities are marked differently, traffic on a roundabout has right of way.
Priority is sometimes given to a major route passing through a roundabout, so that drivers already on the roundabout have to give way when they meet this route. Changed priority is made to help speed traffic flow, but for a driver unfamiliar with the area the need to give way to traffic entering the roundabout can cause a moment's confusion. The advanced driver's observation skills should always alert him well ahead to an unusual circumstance such as this, but the risk can be reduced by keeping in your correct lane and remembering signalling procedures so that drivers around you are aware of your intentions.
Mini-roundabouts, especially those where there is a tight complex of two or three, can cause temporary confusion when you first meet unfamiliar ones, but the extra caution they require is sometimes regarded as their benefit. Since so many drivers are unsure of the procedure on them, traffic is slowed down to a safer speed. Except in the rare instances where road markings indicate differently, treat complexes of mini-roundabouts just like any other roundabout by giving way to vehicles coming from your right. Where a mini-roundabout is marked just by white lines on the road, never succumb to the temptation to cut across the island, even if there is no traffic about.
On all normal roundabouts you should keep to the established procedure outlined in the Highway Code unless lane markings tell you to do differently. If you plan to take the first exit, you should keep to the left and signal a left turn on your approach, keeping the indicator going until you leave the roundabout. If you plan to go more or less straight across, still keep to the left on your approach and through the roundabout, signalling a left turn after you have passed the exit before the one you intend to take. Your anticipation as an advanced driver should have given you plenty of time to move into the left lane on your approach to the roundabout, but in very heavy traffic you might be obliged to stay over to the right; if this is the case, hold your course until you need to signal left and move over for your exit, taking care not to cut in front of any other vehicles. For exits more than 180 degrees round the roundabout, take the right-hand lane on your approach and signal a right turn before you enter the roundabout. Keep the indicator going until you pass the exit before the one you want, at which point starting signalling left and move over for your exit.
- Remember that all junctions create extra danger: always signal your intentions well in advance, take up the correct position on the road and move off only when you are certain it is safe to do so.
- When turning left or going straight across at a crossroads, do not endanger other road users by trying to shoulder into the flow of traffic, and never assume that a vehicle will follow the path suggested by its indicator signals.
- When turning right at a crossroads, pass oncoming vehicles also turning right offside-to-offside, unless road markings or junction layout dictate otherwise.
- Always use the correct lane and signalling procedure when approaching and negotiating roundabouts; your entry to a roundabout should be carefully judged, decisive and safe.