Spaniards Don’t Understand Roundabouts

August 05, 2011 By: erik Category: Complaining, Fighting Stupidity, Skepticism, Spain 1,282 views

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RoundaboutThis rant has been near the surface for several years now, but a news report on television yesterday set me off, and I need to write it down to get it off my chest. Let me be clear. It’s not that Spaniards are stupid or generally bad drivers, the problem is that they are taught wrong at driving school! Believe me, I know, because I had to go to Spanish driving school to get my Spanish license.

Bad Education

In Spanish driving school, the students are taught that, when circulating in a roundabout you should always be in the far outside lane no matter which exit you are planning on taking. How ridiculous is that? Any driving student with half a critical thinking neuron should raise their hand and ask, “Then what are the other lanes in the roundabout for?” But no one does because the authoritarian Spanish school system has extinguished any such behaviors.

I’ve lost track of the number of times that I’ve narrowly escaped an accident when trying to exit a roundabout from the inside lane and somebody is trying to keep going around the roundabout in the outside lane. I suspect that if we were to collide, the authorities would rule the accident as being my fault.

This brings me to what I consider to be a fundamental flaw of roundabouts, specifically roundabouts with two-lane exits.

A Fundamental Flaw

Roundabout

Please focus only on the northeast exit in the image above, and the red and black cars approaching it. Follow my logic here:

  1. If there are two lanes in the exit, then cars are meant to exit parallel with each other from the outer two lanes of the roundabout.
  2. In the image above, if the black car wants to exit into the left lane of the exit road, it may do so legally.
  3. Therefore the red car must exit to the right exit lane to avoid a collision.

The conclusion #3 is a necessarily consequence of the premises #1 and #2.

Not only does that fly in the face of what Spaniards are taught in driving school, it also is contrary to my speculation of legal fault above. There is something very wrong here, because I don’t think anyone, in practice, truly believes that the red car is prohibited from continuing around the roundabout to another exit. In that case, either premise #1 is false – in which case, why do they build roundabouts with two exit lanes?? – or premise #2 is false, meaning that the black car may only exit the roundabout if he somehow verifies the location and intention of the car to its right – in which case, why do they build roundabouts with two exit lanes??

Roundabout Exit

This is the same roundabout exit, as seen from street level. If you’re in this lane of the roundabout, can you continue on around, or must you exit? Does it depend on whether or not there’s a car to your left that wants to exit? Who yields? Argh!!

In Practice

Personally, I am utterly dumbfounded that more traffic accidents don’t happen in roundabouts. The whole scenario seems so chaotic, and the proper rules can’t account for every situation, not to mention that they don’t even teach the proper rules in driving school. But somehow there is an emergent behavior of the system and swarm intelligence takes over to avoid accidents and make roundabouts safer and more efficient than they seem at first glance.

 
  • Erin

    This is a can of worms my friend. In general, I think, similar to you, that it’s a critical thinking issue, which I feel like I come across every day in Spain – from the most complex issues to the most simple. Take walking on sidewalks for example. You would think that after a gagillion head on collisions with other people taking a paseo that people would star to think: hm, maybe I should walk on one side of the sidewalk, or hmmm maybe I should look both ways before flying out of a shop door and into a crowded sidewalk. But alas, nobody really thinks about these things. And what I think it comes down to – and you kind of touched on it – is the way people learn in Spain, that is, the way they are trained to think about and analyze things….which, in reality, is not to question the way things work or a better way to do them, but to just do what has always been done. I echo your sentiment – Spaniards are super smart, I just think they approach things differently (ok, let’s be honest – less efficiently) than we Americans do.

    Ok, rant over.

    • Anonymous

      The sidewalk thing is really annoying.  My parents-in-law tell us that they used to learn something called
      “urbanidad” or good manners in schools, which included the correct way to walk on
      sidewalks, among other things.  I’m thinking maybe they should bring
      that subject back…people could do with a bit more of it.

      • bere_rece

        ___________________________
        Can anybody that speaks good Spanish can search up the law and see which is the correct answer to this?
        ___________________________

        • http://twitter.com/ShouSeiyo Shou Seiyo

          I’m a native Spanish speaker, and I THINK that the law says outer lane always, but there are two exit lanes so that when you have exit the round, you can take that extra space to make traffic more fluid. But, as a matter of fact, I recommend you to “straighten” them rounds ;-p as we ussually do, btw. We know, its dangerous, and we shouldn’t do it, but we do nevertheless. We honor the rule only for pass the licence test, and we didn,t care no more…
          And saying that the educational system is authority based is ignoring how it is. The problem right now is precisely the lack of authority in the classroom. Have it, and then we could begin with critical thinking :(

    • http://www.facebook.com/alan.grady Alan Grady

      While we are ranting. Elevators.  I haven’t been to Spain, but everywhere else in Europe that I have been seems to handle them the same.  It’s a fight.   In America (at least the places I have been), the people in the elevator are allowed to exit.  Those waiting to get in, then enter.  

      Maybe I just had some bad experiences, but man was it a battle to get on an elevator in Europe.

      • http://erikras.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=profile&utm_campaign=Disqus%2BProfile Erik R.
        • aquariumdrinker

          I just read the post you linked and I want my five minutes back. Ah, yes, I remember well my zeroeth love. She was truly zero in a million. But my wife will always be number zero in my heart.

    • http://erikras.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=profile&utm_campaign=Disqus%2BProfile Erik R.

      I do agree that Americans might be slightly better at stepping back and saying, “Maybe there’s a better way to do this,” but humans in general are pretty bad about that.

    • http://www.facebook.com/alan.grady Alan Grady

      I wonder if people in London walk on the left side of the sidewalk?  It seems in America we tend to walk on the right.  

      • http://erikras.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=profile&utm_campaign=Disqus%2BProfile Erik R.

        As I recall, at least the traffic up and down the stairs in The Underground, they do keep to the left.

  • Anonymous

    And taking photos while inside the roundabout isn’t dangerous? ;p  Just kidding.  I imagine you had someone else take that photo while you were correctly exiting from the roundabout, right? :D

    But you’re totally right about this being a problem.  The Professor also complains this quite often, and we’ve had more than one near miss because of it.

    • http://erikras.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=profile&utm_campaign=Disqus%2BProfile Erik R.

      Google Street View, baby!

      As a side note, I spent longer than I’d like to admit trying to figure out how to draw a dashed circle in Photoshop to illustrate my point, and I never did figure it out. Then I considered actually using my daughter’s colored pencils. Just when I was looking for the pencil sharpener, it hit me that I could do a little copyright law bending and actually use a satellite image of the very roundabout that mosts pisses me off on this issue.

  • Lucía

    Im sorry but you are wrong. I am in driving school in spain in this moment and they taught you to circulate in the interior lanes when you are going to the left. 
    My teacher even said that if you do the other way it can be very dangerous, and probably have an accident.
    Maybe your driving school its a bad one, because they teach you incorrect things.
    I hope you can understand me,my english its not very good but i think that its important that the people who read your blog know the true.

    • http://erikras.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=profile&utm_campaign=Disqus%2BProfile Erik R.

      Your English is very good. Thank you for commenting.

      Obviously I can only speak from my own experiences, and it is entirely possible that my teachers were terrible. However, in the news yesterday (video here) interviewed several autoescuela teachers who all claimed that you must be in the outer lane to leave the roundabout, which I maintain is simply not true. If that were true, then why do the exits have two lanes??

      • Lucía

        Yes that its true. You enter the roundabout in the interior lane if you are going to the left, but you have to exit always in the exterior lane. For that reason a lot of people think that its just more easy to enter always in the right lane, but thats incorrect.
        I ask my teacher today about that, and she say that. Its dificult to me to explain to you why in english so im going to say that in spanish, sorry:  Ella también me dijo que el motivo de cambiarse al carril de la derecha antes de salir es porque si sales directamente desde el carril interior de una rotonda podrías provocar un accidente con aquellos que van detras de ti. Pero una vez que te metes por la calle en la que quieres ir, efectivamente puedes utilizar el carril que quieras, siempre teniendo en cuenta que según las normas de trafico se debe circular siempre por la derecha en ciudad a menos que el carril este muy ocupado…

        I dont undestand why you maintain that its not necesary to be in the outer lane to leave the roundabout, maybe you have diferent traffic rules in usa.

        • http://erikras.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=profile&utm_campaign=Disqus%2BProfile Erik R.

          Last night, I interviewed some intelligent, experienced Spanish drivers, and they confirmed what you and your driving instructor are saying. You are rejecting my premise #1 in the original post.

          If you are correct, then roundabouts with two exit lanes should not exist. They should all have one exit lane, which then can increase to two lanes further from the roundabout.
          Anyone who has driven in a roundabout-enabled city at rush hour knows that that would be ridiculous.To be honest, I don’t know what the roundabout rules are in the US, because there are so few of them and I was never taught that in my drivers education classes. But I did live for four years in the roundabout-laden country of England, where they are very, very good about roundabout etiquette.

  • Ray Tibbitts

    Roundabouts are pragmatic in purpose, as are their various attributes.  Why not just put up 4-Way Stop signs, or a pair of traffic lights? – Because roundabouts both keep the flow moving in heavy cross-traffic, and “calm” speeds when there’s little traffic, and give a nice place to put the artwork commissioned by municipalities.  
    The problem with a pragmatic solution, is that law enforcement still has to come up with a way to assign fault, in the event of a collision.  I propose the “who ever has lived in the area the longest” rule.  You take the amount of time each driver has lived in the area, and that is the percentage of blame that they each get.  If Driver A has lived in the area for a year, and the Driver B has lived there for 9 years, A gets assigned 10% at fault, and B gets 90% at fault.
    There are times when you approach a roundabout for the very first time, or due to the behavior of traffic since the previous roundabout, you were not able to change into the appropriate lane, prior to arriving at the next roundabout, and you’re left with no other choice than to annoy everyone else with your lane changes within the circle itself.
    I also had to take the driving class in order to get a Spanish driver’s license, despite having driven more than half my life on a California D.L. My instructors also always had us enter always from the right lane, if there were more than one, and to stay in the outside lane the whole time, even if I were going to, while circulating through the roundabout, drive past several exits, prior to choosing one to exit from.  I didn’t ask why, since the previous three or four times I, or other students asked why, the answer was basically, “because you want to pass the exam on the first try, and not waste a bunch and time and money.”  
    I still wonder if a rule would work that says, “Never let your front bumper pass the rear bumper of the car in the other lane, no matter what lane you’re in, nor what lane you entered, nor intend to exit from.”  

    Simply: No Passing. First In First Out. No Touching!

    • http://erikras.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=profile&utm_campaign=Disqus%2BProfile Erik R.

      Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big proponent of roundabouts. I can’t think of a case where a four-way stop is better than a roundabout.

      I like your “n00bz aren’t at fault” concept.

      I, too, bit my tongue in my Spanish drivers’ ed course because I just wanted to get my license as soon as possible.

      The problem with your “no passing” proposal is a matter of decreasing circumference in the inner lanes. If everyone maintained the same radial velocity, the people in the outer lane would have to exit simply by being pushed out by centrifugal force! :-)

  • Ray Tibbitts

    Roundabouts are pragmatic in purpose, as are their various attributes.  Why not just put up 4-Way Stop signs, or a pair of traffic lights? – Because roundabouts both keep the flow moving in heavy cross-traffic, and “calm” speeds when there’s little traffic, and give a nice place to put the artwork commissioned by municipalities.  
    The problem with a pragmatic solution, is that law enforcement still has to come up with a way to assign fault, in the event of a collision.  I propose the “who ever has lived in the area the longest” rule.  You take the amount of time each driver has lived in the area, and that is the percentage of blame that they each get.  If Driver A has lived in the area for a year, and the Driver B has lived there for 9 years, A gets assigned 10% at fault, and B gets 90% at fault.
    There are times when you approach a roundabout for the very first time, or due to the behavior of traffic since the previous roundabout, you were not able to change into the appropriate lane, prior to arriving at the next roundabout, and you’re left with no other choice than to annoy everyone else with your lane changes within the circle itself.
    I also had to take the driving class in order to get a Spanish driver’s license, despite having driven more than half my life on a California D.L. My instructors also always had us enter always from the right lane, if there were more than one, and to stay in the outside lane the whole time, even if I were going to, while circulating through the roundabout, drive past several exits, prior to choosing one to exit from.  I didn’t ask why, since the previous three or four times I, or other students asked why, the answer was basically, “because you want to pass the exam on the first try, and not waste a bunch and time and money.”  
    I still wonder if a rule would work that says, “Never let your front bumper pass the rear bumper of the car in the other lane, no matter what lane you’re in, nor what lane you entered, nor intend to exit from.”  

    Simply: No Passing. First In First Out. No Touching!

  • Christopher Gamble

    I understand you must not change lanes in front of another so therefore outside lane has priority 

    • http://erikras.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=profile&utm_campaign=Disqus%2BProfile Erik R.

      Then explain to me why they have roundabouts with two exit lanes.

      • Chrisgamble

        Look at it from the point of view that its Spain and their roundabouts rather than trying to impose your own window to the world and force it to fit.
        There’s two lanes SAY..if you are behind somebody and they go all the way ROUND IN FRONT OF YOU THEN YOU CAN GO STRAIGHT AHEAD WHEN THEY HAVE GONE AROUND. IF YOU ARE  ALONG SIDE OR IN FONT THEN DO NOT CHANGE LANE IN ANY WAY THAT AFFECTS THE OTHER DRIVER/CAR  OR ITS AN OFFENCE.
        IF YOU GO STRAIGHT AHEAD FROM THE INSIDE LANE INTO THE LEFT H LANE OF THE EXIT THAT’S OK AS LONG AS NO ONE IS COMING AROUND YOU ON THE OUTSIDE LANE.
        IT DEFIES LOGIC AND IS AS DAFT AS ANYTHING BUT THIS IS SPAIN! ACCEPT IT, ENJOY THE DIFFERENCES AND CHILL OUT…..BE HAPPY.
        If  you want to change the world then write to the Spanish Government with your proposals…I’m sure they will react positively and everything will be fine..change has to start somewhere and this is a sensible campaign as the current rules are idiocy personified!

        • http://erikras.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=profile&utm_campaign=Disqus%2BProfile Erik R.

          Always nice to be told to chill out by someone “screaming” in all caps. Despite the big letters, you still didn’t explain why there should ever be two exit lanes if only one car may exit at a time. I imagine that you can’t, because it’s a contradictory premise, but feel free to have another go…in lowercase.

  • Tipiño

    The DGT (traffic authorities) in spain has legislated (incorrectly) that any vehicle in the outside lane of a roundabout has right of way. Accident statistics prove they are wrong, with 63% of spanish road accidents taking place on roundabouts.Their reasoning is that if you are on a dual garriageway, then the vehicle in the inside lane cannot suddenly change to the outside lane if there is another vehicle using it. They apply the same reasoning to roundabouts, therefore a vehicle in the inside lane cannot invade the outside lane of the roundabout. They seem to have missed the point that a roundabout is a roundabout and not a dual carriageway and that roundabouts were designed to be used in a particular way which they, no matter how smart they think they are, cannot improve on. Nevertheless, this is another one of those bizzare and ridiculous laws in spain, and if you wish to have a go, just have a crash on a roundabout and you will find that the guy that cut you up actually has right of way and it will be you that has to pay up. Driving schools seem to differ on what is taught, some obviously teaching common sense while others teach what is law. Best way to drive in spain is to keep your distance from everyone at all times, omit driving altogether, or best of all, just dont go there.

    • http://erikras.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=profile&utm_campaign=Disqus%2BProfile Erik R.

      What a brilliant comment! Thank you, Tipiño!

  • Gonzalo J. Virosta

    It’s true, spanish roundabouts are wrongly regulated. The outer lane right makes no sense if there are two or more exit lanes. They say they just love roundabouts but they are not willing to lay them out well, which means, splitting lanes broad enough so as to keep speed at normal rate avoiding unfeasible narrow turnings because of those sharp jutted corners. In fact, small multilane roundabouts are stupid to me. It’s impossible you could move along the lanes to exit in such a small lot of road while others surround you. I am spanish and I consider it must be something related to how people perceive what a roundabout should be like, and I am afraid it’s more of an ornament rather than a practical intersection.

  • ron

    The loneliest place on earth? The inside lane of a Spanish roundabout.