If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Thursday, 16 September 2010

A SORI state of affairs

OK, team talk, group hug. Help me out here, folks.

When I learned to drive back in - er - 1970, the procedure for dealing with roundabouts was quite clear. Turning left: approach in the left lane (if more than one), indicating left. Turning right: approach in right lane (if more than one), indicating right. After the exit before the one you want, start to indicate left, move to the outside and leave the roundabout. Going straight ahead: do not signal on the approach, use whichever lane is appropriate (normally the left), after the exit before the one you want, start to indicate left, move to the outside and leave the roundabout.

Perfectly clear and logical. Everyone is in the right position, everyone knows what everyone else is doing, no conflict, no confusion, everyone happy. The Highway Code hasn't changed:


Signals and position.

When taking the first exit to the left, unless signs or markings indicate otherwise

  • signal left and approach in the left-hand lane
  • keep to the left on the roundabout and continue signalling left to leave

When taking an exit to the right or going full circle, unless signs or markings indicate otherwise

  • signal right and approach in the right-hand lane
  • keep to the right on the roundabout until you need to change lanes to exit the roundabout
  • signal left after you have passed the exit before the one you want

When taking any intermediate exit, unless signs or markings indicate otherwise

  • select the appropriate lane on approach to the roundabout
  • you should not normally need to signal on approach
  • stay in this lane until you need to alter course to exit the roundabout
  • signal left after you have passed the exit before the one you want
They even give a nice little graphic to make it crystal-clear:

Now I have noticed, over many years, that a significant minority of drivers do not follow this procedure. When going straight ahead on a roundabout, they signal RIGHT on the approach (and often stay in the right lane, if there is one) and then signal left at the turning before, and leave the roundabout. I'll call this the SORI method (straight on, right indicator).

It's hard to give any statistics, so this is anecdotal, but for those who do bother to signal at roundabouts - a declining number, I think - about one in twenty follow the 'going straight on, signal right', SORI approach. I can't understand this. Not only is it not what the Highway Code says today, but it wasn't what the Highway Code said forty years ago either.

If it was only one car in a hundred, you could dismiss it as someone who had never learned to drive properly, or a genuine mistake, or a last-minute change of mind, or whatever. But I see this enough to believe that a goodly number of drivers today actually think this is the correct way to do it. And that puzzles me.

You see, driving instruction these days is a highly-regulated profession. If they pay for lessons, learners must learn with an DSA-approved instructor, and these people all have to pass a test of competence which surely to God involves knowing the right way to deal with a roundabout. So I am looking for an explanation, and I can only come up with:
  • At one time, SORI was the correct method, and some kind of race-memory has kept it in the minds of learner drivers through the ages, perhaps passed down through families (although any driver taught to do this must have taken his or her test at least 40 years ago)
  • These people were taught by Grandad, not a proper instructor, and Grandad's memory isn't what it was
  • Some driving instructors are part of a secret cabal of revolutionaries, who deliberately teach people the SORI method as part of a plot for world domination
  • Some drivers have such a poor spatial awareness that they think straight ahead is a kind of subset of 'right'
  • Some people are just fucking thick.
No, cancel that last one. Thick would mean random. No-one indicates left to go straight on; it's always right. It's deliberate.

Only this week, I was nearly totalled by one of these goons. I was approaching a roundabout, intending to go straight ahead. The van in front of me signalled right and went into the right-hand lane, so I came up in the left lane and took the outside lane round the roundabout. I was going faster than he was, so I went past him on the outside and was about to take my exit when he sliced across me and took the exit I was going for, and he went straight for the left lane, as well, which left me nowhere to go. I was prepared for this, so no drama other than a few choice curses under my breath, but it did occur to me that his actions were completely out of order. I don't so much mind being cut up - shit happens - but why the right-turn signal? It happens all the time, and they can't all be changing their minds at the last minute, can they?

Next time it happens, and the car stops soon afterwards, I think I will pull over and ask the driver why he did it. I might get in a fight, possibly - I mean, it's hard to say "why did you just do that?" without sounding aggressive, but it's worth it if I can find out what the hell is going on.

If anyone reading this has the faintest clue about it, I'd love to hear an explanation.

You can tell I've been on the road a lot this week.


  1. I'm afraid I opt for option 5. Yes, it fails to explain why there is never a left-indication, but it explains a lot of other driver behaviour.

    Shortly before I learnt to drive, I found an old (1960s) book on driving. The preface explained that the only safe way to drive was to assume that every other road-user was an incompetent idiot with no driving skills, and that it was up to you to compensate for their errors. I took that advice to heart; it works.

  2. The biking equivalent is 'ride as if everyone else on the road would kill you if they could'. I've followed that for nearly 40 years, and I am still here.

    I love old books on driving/riding/cars/bikes, and I have several. It's something I would collect, if I were a collecting type of person. I still have the Odhams Motor Manual from the 60s, and a wonderful tome called Motorcycles And How To Manage Them from 1950 or so, which is a treat. The days when 25bhp and 500cc was a 'sporting man's bike' and chaps wore greatcoats and gauntlets. Happy days.

  3. I think the problem stems for the 'I do what I like until someone stops me' attitude. If you fly aeroplanes every so often you have to have a check ride with an instructor who picks you up on any bad habits you have picked up. I am always amazed by the amount you can lapse in bad habits in a year.

    Recently and in exchange for no points (following a bit of bad behaviour (speed) I went on a 'driver awareness' course which included half an hour with an ex police driver. Result: I am sure we should have say 5 yearly check rides for car drivers.

    PS the other great bit of 'I don't need to stick to the boring rules' behaviour on roundabouts is the total disregard of lane lines. "If messrs Button, Hamilton and Clarkson can take the racing line though roundabouts then so can I"

  4. Yes, this van was taking the racing line all right.

    I'm not sure ignorance or selfishness explain the 'indicate right' thing, though. Plenty of people are ignorant and selfish enough not to signal at all. But why the desire to signal right when going straight on, in defiance of the Highway Code and common sense? The idea must have come from somewhere. It's a small but significant minority who do it, and I can only think that they have been taught it as the correct method at some point. But where. and by whom?

    Naughty boy! I did something similar a couple of years ago, voluntarily, called Bikesafe. Two days of instruction, discussion and road observation with a police motorcyclist - well worth it, and for the reasons you state.

  5. Ignorance will do for me as an explanation.

    I don't know many motorists who keep up with the Highway Code, and all of those that do are bikers. And SORI could arguably be seen as common sense since one does, generally, turn right around a roundabout until it is time to turn left. In a way, the straight ahead exception is an anomaly (unless one regards it as being equivalent to a crossroads), which is why it requires the learning of a separate rule that can then easily be forgotten or misremembered.

    So I think what you're seeing is the lowest common denominator of motoring: people who are content with a numbly adequate autopilot level of skill and awareness as long as it gets them from A to B without too much (observed) drama. They don't have malicious intent, so they at least make an attempt to let other road users know what they're doing, and they're not utterly thick, so they don't usually indicate left for straight on. They've just gotten into the habit of doing it wrong and have no incentive to learn or remember how to do it right*.

    There is a second category who seem to have decided that left indication for their exit is unnecessary extra effort. This type will therefore offer no indication at all for left or straight ahead, and only a right indication for anything else. There actually seem to be a lot more of those round these parts than there are SORI practitioners.

    Van man, I suspect, is a different case - the sort of driver who cares nothing for the consequences of his actions as long as it gets him a few car lengths ahead. Indication, from such people, does quite often seem to be either entirely random or entirely optional.

    * I knew one lady who had convinced herself that the choice of indicator was determined by the lane she entered the roundabout on, rather than the intended exit, and took some persuading that other road users were more interested in where she was going than where she had come from. And she swore blind that was what her instructor had taught her. I can only assume her test was on a route where the wrong reasons fortunately gave the right result. She's the only person I've met who would actually use both SOLI and SORI.

  6. I think you may be onto something here. It depends on whether you view a roundabout as a specialised form of crossroads or as a lane system with a number of exits. As a form of crossroads (which is how I see it), the SORI thing is illogical, but if you see the entry into the roundabout a bit like an entry to a motorway and the exits like off-ramps, then the right-and-left signals are logical indicators of lane changes and directional intentions.

    This is something which has developed since I learned to drive, too. When I learned, almost all roundabouts were the Celtic Cross-type, with four roads meeting in one circle. Nowadays, there are double roundabouts, gyratories, four-lane one-way systems and so on. So perhaps the right signal which says "I am actually entering the roundabout, not turning off at the first exit" is logical after all.

    There is also an additional complication if one road is much larger than the other. There's one near me where the main road is 3 and 9 o'clock, and the road at 12 is quite minor. If I am going up that road, I always signal right as I pull onto the roundabout, to signal to the cross traffic (which is usually going fast) that I am crossing their path.

    Yesterday, as I rode to the vintage bike show, I followed a pretty quick driver in a Peugeot through a series of roundabouts. We must have passed five roundabouts, going straight on at each one, and every time he signalled right on approach, then left to leave it. I suppose, reading your comments, that I should have been grateful he signalled at all.


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