How would you explain a roundabout to a Martian? Easy, you might say, simply mirror, signal and give way to traffic already on the roundabout, then choose a lane that matches the hemisphere from which you plan to depart.
‘What about trucks?’ says the Martian.
Oh those. Trucks tend to run the outside lane regardless of the situation because it gives them an easier turning arc and is a notable reason for ‘conflict’ over perceived rights of way when it comes to the exit. They should indicate their intention, but don’t count on it. The beauty is that, if you get cut off or make a hash of things, just go for another lap.
‘And the French?’
Until recently the French gave priority to vehicles entering a roundabout under the arcane priorité à droite rule, where traffic gives way to the right. Given the French drive on the right side of the road, you would have expected them to give way to the left, but they don’t, giving rise to the farcical situation of drivers already on a roundabout yielding to inbound dive-bombers.
That was recently overturned, unofficially, and cars entering French roundabouts now cèdent le passage, the same as the Brits, most of the time. The sign ‘Vous n’avez pas la priorité’ means it’s British rules.
Our American brothers have vast swathes of big country to drive through and everybody spends considerably longer driving than in Europe. This is reflected in the accident toll, which is nearly three times higher than the UK. Half of these wrecks happen at intersections, along with the majority of pedestrian fatalities.
If you try crossing one, make sure to tighten your shoelaces. It’s a long haul to cover ten lanes of traffic that never quite stops moving. In the States, they have a magic law that allows you to turn right on a red light if there’s no incoming traffic, but it’s a gauntlet if you’re on foot.
The quaint British roundabout is coming to the rescue Stateside and rolling out nationwide. After they were introduced in Maine, fatalities were cut by 90 per cent. The very complexity of roundabouts and the way they force you to interact with other drivers, to make eye contact with a fellow human being even, is what makes them work.