introducing junction skills

There are various types of junctions that you may encounter on the roads in the UK and abroad. T-junctions and crossroads, slip roads and other Y-junctions, mini-roundabouts to spiral roundabouts and more could be encountered as you drive around. We could not hope to introduce you to every single type of junction in the UK but we will teach you the skills that you need and give you examples for the most commonly encountered junctions.

mirrors

Almost every action you take in driving should be preceded with observations – taking the time to look to make sure you know who or what else is around you. However, you won’t know that you need to take action if you haven’t spotted a change in circumstances or road layout; your ongoing observations and hazard awareness should lead you to first of all IDENTIFY an issue, then collect INFORMATION on it before checking MIRRORS to see what is around you. You should approach all junctions with this same routine but each element of the routine may take a different focus with the various types of junctions.

IDENTIFY

Use road markings, signs and layouts to alert you to a need to take action. This could be information signs, warning signs, mandatory signs, hazard lines, lane dividers, give way lines, the end of a road, sharp corner or road crossing your path.

INFORMATION

The signs, markings and layouts you see will give you information about what to expect. Signs will give you information about what or where, but might also give you information about distance, severity or correct positioning. Road markings might tell you where to position as well as places you should avoid, they may also give you information about where you are going.

MIRRORS

 As you approach a junction you should check mirrors to see what is behind you and what affect your actions may have on the following traffic.  Your centre mirror is the best way to assess what is behind you as it accurately shows you the distance of these vehicles. Your side mirrors will help you see if anything is coming alongside you as well as to check your current position.

These observations all precede your signal but  you will need to make further observations and assessments as you proceed.

signal

It is critical that you let other people know what you are planning to do.

After checking your mirrors to assess traffic you should signal to other road users. Just because there is nothing behind you does not mean that you should not signal; pedestrians, oncoming traffic, cyclists in cycle lanes, etc. may all need to know what you are planning to do. You must signal in good time so that others can see and if necessary respond to your signal. How early you signal will depend on your speed, visibility, road layout and traffic conditions. 

Signalling is important but so is the timing of your signal. You need to choose to tell others that you are planning to turn right but if you do it too early people may think you have signalled accidently or they will assume you are turning into a drive way or stopping on the right. If you signal at the correct time then people will work out your intentions. For that reason I rarely signal until I can see I am near the information sign for the junction or until I can see the turning itself.

The timing of your signal may be affected by any roads before the road where you wish to turn. You will need to make a judgement about when to signal based on what is most helpful to other road users – put yourself in their place and decide what you would want to see.

Time your signal well – not too late and not too early! If you are struggling with this then talk to your instructor / accompanying driver to get more advice.

position

After signalling your intentions you will probably need to adjust your position and speed. These can often overlap and you will be slowing down as you adjust your position. 

Using the correct position when turning will reinforce the message to other road users that you are turning. There are other reasons why it is also helpful – it makes it easier for vehicles further behind you to see your indicator lights. Ideally your indicator should have been on before you adjust your position.

Your position will be dependent on the road layout so choose your positioning based on what you can see and what you know about the road – consider the likelihood of cyclists wanting to come on either side of you, choose the correct lane if they are marked and consider the tightness and angle of the turn. Your position needs to balance giving you the best view possible with allowing space for other road users and giving yourself enough room to make the turn (remember your back wheels will cut the corner – see steering section).

speed and gear

The speed at which you approach a junction will depend on several things: your confidence, car handling, road conditions, sharpness of bend, traffic conditions, your assessment of the risks involved. Your speed should be adjusted gradually and should not be a surprise to following traffic. Late braking will make an uncomfortable drive for you and your passengers but also greatly increases the chances of you being hit from behind. 

Whenever you slow the car down you will need to decide if a change of gear is necessary. When cornering, lower gears help to give better control and so 2nd gear is by far and away the most likely choice. The clutch should be completely up as you turn the corner—therefore any gear change must be fitted in before you start to turn. 

Choosing the correct speed requires good judgement and this does improve with time and practice. Your judgement as to what speed you need depends on several factors: the amount of oncoming traffic, the tightness of the turn, the road markings and the potential hazards around you. If in doubt go slower than you think – it is much easier to speed up a bit than to slow down at the last moment (it is easy to stop quickly but not so easy to slow down and keep the car moving under control).

I would expect your speed to be slower when emerging than turning because you have the extra responsibility of assessing and find a safe gap to move into (this will take time). This means you are much more likely to be in first gear (though there are many junctions where it is safe to use 2nd gear) and creeping. Creeping is when you are in first gear and holding the clutch near the biting point so that the car is moving but very, very slowly. When you have found a safe gap then you bring the clutch up smoothly as you press the accelerator. Remember that just like moving off you need to control the release of the clutch to get a smooth controlled move away.

Look

Once you have done some initial observations, signalled appropriately, slowed down and selected the correct gear you will need to once again look to get information. You would be wise to look for vehicles that are close to you and particularly look for cyclists who may have drawn alongside you as you have slowed down. If the road is wide enough you may also need to be aware of vehicles coming alongside you. Remember to take the time to look carefully, watching out for the most vulnerable road users. 

The closer you get to the junction the more you will need to adjust your speed in accordance with what you are seeing. On junctions where you can see clearly (referred to as OPEN junctions) then your speed might be at about 10mph, on roads where it is difficult to see  any approaching traffic (called CLOSED junctions) you will need to be creeping along. This requires good planning and car control.  Since visibility plays a crucial role in deciding your approach speed you will need to start looking left and right as early as possible to assess the situation. You should continue to check to the left and the right throughout your approach and your speed should continue to drop until the point at which you can see it is safe to go.

Pay attention to road markings since if you need to creep or stop then you will want to do that near the end of the road so that you can see but you will not want to cross into the new road until you are ready.

As you make your final approach to the junction you will need to be LOOKING and ASSESSING to find out what is happening and what you are going to do about it. For example, if you see someone start to cross the road you want to turn into you may have to change your speed and / or gear. You will also need to be gathering information about what is happening in the road in which you are about to turn into: discovering the road goes sharply uphill may cause you to decide on a different gear or speed; a parked car may lead to a different road position.

The lane of traffic you are crossing may obscure your view of vehicles on the other side of the road so do take time to look well.

assess

When you have information you need to weigh it up and decide what to do about it – essentially the question you need to answer is “is that gap big enough for me to get into?”. You have probably realised by now that driving is not a simple task and that making that assessment requires various skills. For example, you need to answer that question and act on it before the situation changes. Your job is not simply to say “that gaps is big enough” and then sit there as you watch the gap disappear! You have to identify the gap you want to take and act promptly in order to get into it. I always recommend that my students tell themselves “I’m going after X” – be it the red car or blue lorry, if you identify which vehicle you will turn after then you can focus on making that happen.

You will need to keep assessing the situation and be prepared to adjust your original plan if necessary. For example you may see a large gap after the yellow car and you are prepared to go once it has passed, only for the yellow car to indicate and turn out of the way – now you need to adjust your plan and get moving. Equally you may tell yourself you can go only to find a vehicle appears and makes you change your mind. If you are travelling slowly enough then you always have the option to change your mind.

decide

Your assessment of the situation should lead to a decision to move into a gap at a speed of your choice. Your assessment and decision-making skills should all improve with time and practise but if you are struggling you will need your instructor / accompanying driver to help you. As mentioned, there is always the chance that you will re-evaluate and change your mind during this process but at some point you have to decide to go. It will help if when you have made that decision you commit to it. 

act

It will help if when you have made that decision you commit to it: trying to do a task well whilst worrying that you have made a poor decision will invariably lead to poor execution of that task. If you are going to go, go well! Go promptly and under control and concentrate on moving the car into the correct position and adjusting the speed as necessary.

Once you have completed the initial job of negotiating the junction you will need to concentrate on what happens next. Joining a road where the traffic is travelling at 40mph and staying at 20mph is not safe or sensible and so part of joining traffic is the need to get up to an appropriate speed quite quickly. Alongside that you should also be choosing a position that is most appropriate – you will need to complete the turn and straighten up if you have emerged and if you are joining a roundabout or slip road then you will need to be getting your vehicle driving in the correct lane and holding a steady course. All of this requires a bit of planning ahead. Try not to wait until you are on the new road to think about these things. As you are leaving the “old road” start adjusting your speed and position for the “new road”. Look to see if there are hazards further along the road that require a certain speed, make a choice about where in the road you wish to position and keep looking at what is around (in front and behind) in order to work out your best course of action.