Due to the lack of broad driver education in New Zealand, Drive Life contributor Rob Neil is here to talk about some of the common bad habits and issues that cause difficulties on the road.

Please, share the links to these articles with others. If we can save one life with our series of road safety and driver information articles, it will be worth it.

Rob Neil is a part-time DriveLife contributor (but a full time grumpy bugger) who spent 24 years as a traffic cop, initially with the Ministry of Transport and then with Police, where he specialised in traffic enforcement, spending his last six years in the job with the Highway Patrol.

The Mystery of the Roundabout

Sit and watch any roundabout in New Zealand and you will quickly realise that most drivers have no idea what their obligations are when it comes to indicating.

The “mystery” of roundabouts is not the road rules themselves, but why people—the “confused roundabouters” as I shall call them— find them confusing at all.

There is only one difference between indicating at roundabouts and any other type of intersection.

The only additional indication needed at a roundabout—the only difference from any other intersection—is the need to always indicate your exit. That is it; there is nothing else—nothing to be confused about, and no need for any random indication when approaching a roundabout.

The most common tendency of the confused roundabouter appears to be an inexplicable urge to indicate right when intending to travel straight ahead. The only real “mystery” is where this practice comes from because it makes no sense at all. All it does is confuse (and infuriate) opposing drivers who dutifully (and correctly) stop to give way to the approaching confused roundabouter’s vehicle, only to have it continue annoyingly straight ahead while they give way unnecessarily!


If you are one of those who is confused (and with plenty of bush-lawyers offering unqualified wrong advice, perhaps it’s understandable), simply imagine what you would do if the intersection had no roundabout. Would you indicate a turn if you intended travelling straight ahead through a “normal” intersection? No you wouldn’t; a roundabout is no different.

If (and only if) you intend to turn (either right or left) at the roundabout, then you indicate your intention to turn before entering—exactly the same as you would at any intersection. Other than that, your only other indication at a roundabout is to (always) signal LEFT before reaching your intended exit, to let others know you are LEAVING the roundabout.

This makes sense—particularly with large roundabouts, which might have multiple exits.

The reality of time and distance at small roundabouts makes it impossible to provide a full three seconds’ indication of your intention to leave; however, this is unavoidable (and the Road User Rule 2004 specifically acknowledges this fact, but still requires an indication where practicable).

What is avoidable (and frustrating for other road users) is the unnecessary and inappropriate indication by “confused roundabouters” of non-existent turns.

Most of our traffic laws have a sound basis in common sense, and roundabouts are no different. Hopefully this simple article helps demystify for the confused roundabouters out there what is actually a very straightforward procedure.

Take care, be courteous, and safe driving everyone!

See the following link to the relevant section of the Land Transport (Road User) Rule 2004 (sub-clauses (5) and (6) of clause 3.10)


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  1. If you are using a single lane roundabout and your turning at the first left, but there is multiple lanes you can go into on that exit.do you have to use the left lane or can you go streight into the lane that you need to be in?

    • HI Logan.
      You are supposed to use the lane nearest you – so this would be the left lane, then indicate to move into the next lane over.

  2. Can anyone help me resolve an argument at work please. If I’m sitting at a roundabout, turning right, do I have to give way to the people who are going straight through from the opposite side? Nobody seems to know the answer. If I’m already on the roundabout they have to give way to me because I am approaching from their right, but if I come up to the roundabout, they are on my right. The give way rules state that right turning vehicles must give way to those driving straight ahead, but does a roundabout change that? Some people give way, some don’t.

    • If you are on the roundabout, you have right of way, end of story. I understand what you mean that they are on your right, but you have already entered the roundabout. They must give way to you.
      Of course as you mention, because New Zealand, many drivers don’t know/don’t care.

  3. It all seems extremely complex regardless of the written instructions of the grumpy intersection observer.prior to the new introduced left hand rule,roundabouts and intersection navigation appeared simple and straight forward without confusion.It now is over complicated ,creating chaos even for the sensible driver.So cleverly designed for accidental misuse of the new rule changes,reducing people to nervous decisions that do create problems while performing a generally simple procedure.God,keep people safe please.

    • HI Mark
      That’s interesting as I find the rules anything but complex. When I explain the rules to a driver who is going through the http://www.iam.org.nz advanced driver process, they get it easily.
      Golden rule: always indicate your exit.
      Turning right? Indicate right, then indicate left for your exit.

  4. You need to remove the word “always” when indicating exit from roundabout. You mention small roundabouts, we have a small roundabout near us that has a road on the left just after it and it would be dangerous to indicate left after going straight through.

    • The law isn’t ambiguous in this regard, you “must always indicate” your exit. It is also a good idea to assume that everyone else is an idiot on the road, and so for both reasons given, any driver waiting to exit the side road you talk about, who confused the intentions of a driver leaving a roundabout might actually be one of the aforementioned idiots. A safe driver would recognize the ’roundabouter’ was indeed following the laws of the road and not assume they were indicating to turn into the side road

  5. David you are perfectly right – we have two small intersections on Kapiti Road Paraparaumu and when driving straight through on these there is only a split second to indicate your intention to drive straight through, after passing the road on the left. I only learnt of this rule yesterday, when driving straight through and it sounded crazy at the time and sure enough today when I put it into practise it remains crazy not to mention unnecessary. However since it is an offence to disobey this crazy rule I will ensure to indicate for the split second it takes to exit.

    • Hi Frances. I’m keen to know what you think the rule is unnecessary, or do you mean only on very small roundabouts?
      The whole making sure you indicate your exit even on a small roundabout – for me – means you set up your brain in the habit of always indicating your exit on a roundabout, so it becomes automatic.

    • By the way, there is some allowance in the road rules for very small roundabouts: “A driver who intends to leave a roundabout must, if practicable, make any left turn signal immediately before the intended exit and after any intervening exit from a roundabout.”
      The ‘if practicable” bit can apply here, but please don’t take this as legal advice from me 🙂


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