Part of the opening scenes behind the film title etc. is the scene where the teenager is failing his driver’s license. The car approaches a roundabout (a traffic circle) and the inspector instructs the boy to take the first exit. However he is frozen with fear and drives round and round the roundabout. Until he plucks up the courage to take an exit. At which stage the inspector demands he stop the car, which he eventually does by hitting an immovable object, after he has driven the car onto the pavement (sidewalk for the Americans). He is being taught to drive by his mother, who often does NOT let him drive, as they zoom off to see her lover, leaving him in the car waiting. His hesitancy comes from the lack of practice and the unbelievable pressures from his mother who is forceful, lying and manipulative.

That scene always rings a bell for me. Indecision, or the lack of willpower to carry out a decision.

For a mechanism to smooth out traffic interactions at intersections the roundabout is one of the most ingenious and contentious artefacts on the road. What a simple idea, all traffic goes in one direction AROUND, so there is no chance of two vehicles meeting head on. What seems less clear is how to manage the joining and leaving at the same time. Ask anyone who has driven as a tourist around some of the big roundabouts in Paris or Italy.

When I grew up there were only two roundabouts near to us, in succession on a very quiet ‘main road’. As they were very large, and had pretty beds of flowers on them, I suspect they were decided on by a mayor or town planner who lived near to them. As a teenage girl riding a motor scooter they were no problem, often I would be the only vehicle in sight and could take the time to admire the flowers.

I know the theory of traffic roundabouts, the big ones that is, join carefully, then move in towards the centre, then out again when you are ready to leave. Simple really. But what if people won’t let you near the outside again? I remember an event, not long after I obtained my drivers license, at the large roundabout called “Fountains Circle” as one exited Pretoria to travel to Johannesburg. I carefully watched for a gap, popped into the stream, and like a well brought up girl, edged towards the centre. And then watched my exit go by. Oh well, nothing for it, but to go around again. And again. Those vehicles so ready to let me slide into the obscurity of the innermost lane, were not at all delighted to have me in competition for the outside lane. So round I went, three times, until I discovered a way to get into and STAY IN the outside lane, and on to Johannesburg.

Some sage advice later convinced me that I had to forget being polite to all, but to be direct. Turn on the indicator and MOVE into the lane of my choice. No problem, the Fountains Circle had become an easy obstacle to tackle.

I realise sometimes that I haven’t used that same advice in my personal life. Join when I wish, leave when I wish, and be polite but firm enough to be in the lane I want for the next move I wish to take.

16 thoughts on “Roundabout

  1. You remind me of National Lampoons European Vacation, Sidey, when Chevy Chase spends a whole day traversing a London roundabout 🙂 Great piece, it is good to hear others are in the same boat as I am when it comes to roundabouts…

  2. Straightforward advice about handling roundabouts . . . and life:

    I realise sometimes that I haven’t used that same advice in my personal life.

    Join when I wish, leave when I wish, and be polite but firm enough to be in the lane I want for the next move I wish to take.

    Great insights, Sidey.

    We must do the thing we think we cannot do. 😀

      1. Indeed. Of course, even you are firm (and polite) others will still characterize your actions as “rude” because they want YOU to do what THEY want you to do.

        The solution: realize THAT is their problem. 😉

  3. Sadly, many drivers forget the ‘polite’ in their agression (or is it assertion?).

    I’ve driven some terrifying roundabouts (including round the Arc de Triomphe in Paris) and so long as you know where you’re going and go for it it’s all ok – a moment’s hesitation and catastrophe looms! (another metaphor for life, maybe)

  4. Nice post. The trick of roundabouts in traffic, as in life, is to be assertive… and watchful, I guess. Direct, not polite – I like that… it’s workable, while the reverse (which, sadly, most of us have been taught is the better way) is simply crazy-making, keeping us on the wheel forever.

  5. I, too, read this hearing Clark…”Look kids…Parliament” until dusk fell, lol!
    I actually took a roundabout tonight on the way to my brothers and thought of your theme! I’m quite amused to find roundabouts in the podunk state of States. I’ve oft equated these structures as ‘other worldly’, not American, as we are too aggressive to handle such a diplomatic structure when dealing with “our cars”….
    Nice segue……roundabouts..

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