In theory, roundabouts are simple, uncomplicated hazards. You stop, give way to traffic from the right and move forward when the road is clear. However, given that half the population of Britain seems to be continually driving round and round in clockwise circles like the whirling dervishes of suburbia – when is the road ever clear? You don’t give way; you stop long enough to get a Degree in Patience from the Open University, and wait in vain to squeeze into gap in the traffic, or for a Tory government – whichever comes first. Of course, this could just be me and my chronic fear of merging. Certainly, the other drivers happily playing at being Zebedee on the Magic Roundabout don’t seem to have the same problem. They don’t stop. They touch the brake briefly, usually for cosmetic reasons – then zoom, they’re off, careering across three lanes of oncoming traffic until they reach their exit, then back across the same three lanes to disappear up the middle of a dual carriageway in a cloud of screw-you exhaust.
My car has the acceleration of a pensioner on a pair of roller skates; I can’t compete with cruise confident speed freaks. I wait until there’s a space the size of Alaska before I dare enter, invariably resulting in a Congo line of cars stretching behind me playing peep-peep toot-toot (the garage mix) whose impatient drivers are often somewhat short of the party spirit. Then there’s the lane question – trying to merge with traffic gyrating like wash on the spin cycle is difficult enough without weaving into the inside lane and back out again in time to exit. I have to chant ‘I will survive’ and do breathing exercises before I can overtake on an empty stretch of the M4 – how can I be expected to run the lane gauntlet on a congested roundabout? It’s like playing Russian roulette with loaded cars. When I got lost in Birmingham recently I went round the same one seven times before I found the right exit. And dizziness does not improve manoeuvrability.
Mini roundabouts are no easier to negotiate. For a start – no one actually goes round them. You sit, stranded Quasimodo style on the middle of the hump on a series of roundabouts that looks like the symbol for the Olympic games, wondering how you are supposed to snake your way through them.
The answer to a meek matron’s prayer has to be the timed traffic light timed roundabout. There are no surprises. You do as you’re told, slow down at the red light and dash for glory on green. They’d certainly be useful in the States where the roundabout transforms into a Rotary – as though it’s a club that only the initiated can enter. Sadly, this is not the case. American rules apply – it’s a free for all. I close my eyes, obey the law and ‘Yield’ but no one else gives way to anything – except, possibly, a driver with a gun. My husband, hoping for a similar reaction, now wants to install a ‘Yield’ sign in the bedroom. But blind obedience will only take me so far.