J is for... Junctions!
What is a junction?
A junction could be considered many types of things - including;
- a T junction
- a Y junction
- a junction on a bend
- a roundabout (we'll talk more about roundabouts in another blog)
- cross roads
- unmarked junctions
- controlled junctions
- box junctions
T junctions are your typical junctions that we commonly come across, usually where we have to give way to other vehicles if we're emerging from the junction.
Junctions on bends can be a little tricky - we have to be aware that we may not be able to see clearly around the corner, and take extra caution. Look for road markings and road signs to indicate who has priority.
Cross roads can vary from cross road to cross road. Some cross roads have markings, making it clear who has priority. Some cross roads have traffic lights, making them controlled junctions. Some cross roads don't have any markings, making them unmarked junctions. Some cross roads have a yellow box in the middle, making them a box junction...
Rule 181 of the Highway Code also says this about turning right at cross roads -
When turning right at crossroads where an oncoming vehicle is also turning right, there is a choice of two methods;
- turn right side to right side (offside-offside); keep the other vehicle on your right and turn behind it. This is generally the safer method as you have a clear view of any approaching traffic when completing your turn
- left side to left side (nearside-nearside), turning in front of each other. This can block your view of oncoming vehicles, so take extra care. Cyclists and motorcyclists in particular may be hidden from your view. Road layout, markings or how the other vehicle is positioned can determine which course should be taken.
Controlled junctions (above), are often found in busier areas, and traffic lights are used to keep traffic flowing. There may also be more than one lane (therefore the left hand lane may go left and road ahead, and the right hand lane turns right only). Controlled junctions may also feature a 'filter light' which indicates that you have priority. A normal 'green' light means you can proceed if it is safe to do so - so you must priority to oncoming traffic if you're turning right. If we're at a 'normal' cross roads, the main road usually has priority - look for signs and road markings to confirm this.
Unmarked junctions can be interesting! Technically, no-one has priority, so it's essential that you slow down, be aware, make eye contact with other road users, and be sure of their intentions before turning. We may also look at the other road user's positioning and speed to help us figure out where they're intending to go.
Box junctions are yellow hatched markings in the middle of the junction. Rule 174 of the Highway Code says - You MUST NOT enter the box until your exit road or lane is clear. However, you may enter the box and wait when you want to turn right, and are only stopped from doing so by oncoming traffic, or by other vehicles waiting to turn right. At signalled roundabouts you MUST NOT enter the box unless you can cross over it completely without stopping.
Road markings & road signs
The most common road markings surrounding a typical junction would be a give way line, or a stop line. The centre line may also change to a hazard line. This is where the centre line becomes longer, and warns you of a hazard ahead, such as a junction, slip road, roundabout, sharp corner, etc. Have a look at the pictures and see the difference between a normal centre line, and a hazard line.
You may also find different signs surrounding junctions. These could be give way signs, STOP signs, warning signs (warning you of the type of junction coming up) etc. Have a look at some of the examples pictured here. Some signs have a 'thicker' line - this indicates the main road and therefore who has priority.
Road signs & markings help us identify a junction. We may also look for gaps in houses, gaps in rows of parked cars, and other cars pulling in/out of the junction.
How do we deal with a typical junction?
A closed/blind junction means we're unable to see clearly what is on the main road that we're trying to emerge onto. It could be that the angle of the junction makes it difficult to see, or that houses, trees, or other 'street furniture' is getting in our way. This may mean we have to take extra precautions and creep out carefully at the junction, to get the best view of the road before emerging fully onto the main road.
Where a junction is open - meaning we can see clearly what is coming both ways as we approach the junction - we may not have to stop (unless there is a STOP sign). We could look nice and early, plan ahead, bring our speed down, choose an appropriate gear, and drive out of the junction safely.
Many instructors use MSPSL to help students understand what we need to do on the approach to a junction, and how to deal with junctions safely. The MSPSL routine works for approaching any junction, roundabout or hazard. It's a good routine to remember, but it's important to understand why we're doing each step, and why it's important.
We would check our middle mirror to tell us what's behind us. Our middle mirror gives us a 'true' picture of what is behind us. Our side mirrors are slightly curved (convex), therefore gives us a wider view, however makes everything look further away - so we need to take that into account when making decisions as to when to pull out, overtake, turn, etc.
It's also important to think about what you're going to do if, for example, a car is following you closely, or there is a car next to you when you're trying to change lanes.
As you progress in your driving, you will learn the skills of anticipation and judgement - they take time and experience, and your instructor can support you with this.
Typically we would indicate left or right. Sometimes if we're going road ahead, we may not indicate. It's important that our signals don't confuse other road users - and this is why it's important that we check our mirrors first, to see who's around. Imagine if we were on a dual carriageway and wanted to overtake, so we signalled first, checked our mirrors, and realised a car was next to us? How do you think that car would feel? Do you think they'd be surprised? What action do you think they'd take if they saw a car suddenly signalling to change lanes?
It's also important to understand what a signal actually is - it could be a number of things. A signal is something that shows others our intentions, here are a few examples;
- Indicators - shows where we're going
- Road positioning - shows where we're going
- Brake lights - shows we're slowing down
- Reverse lights - shows we're reversing
- Headlights - warns road users of our presence
- Speed - indicates whether we're likely to turn into a junction (for example, if we see a car approaching really fast with it's indicator on, it's unlikely they're actually going to turn, so we should be cautious of trusting an indicator alone)
Our position can tell other road users a lot about where we're going. If there is more than one lane, we can choose the correct lane, appropriate for where we're going. We can use road markings and arrows on the road to help us, and also by looking at road signs which may show which lane to choose for different directions.
Even if there is only one lane, our positioning can still be a powerful signal. If we 'hug' the kerb to the left and follow that kerb round, it would show other road users that we are going to turn left. If we stay to the right hand side of our lane, it would show other road users that we are going to turn right.
Speed is important - firstly, it can be a signal to other road users as to where we're going or what we're planning to do, but having our speed under control will really help us control the car when we're making a turn at a junction or roundabout etc. Bringing our speed down not only gives us more control over the car, but also allows us to plan ahead better, and gives us more time to deal with the junction and our surroundings.
Speed and gears are also closely linked together - if we bring our speed down, but fail to change down a gear, we still wouldn't have as much control over the car. So it's important to bring our speed down to a suitable speed for the turn that we're making, and then choose an appropriate gear for the speed that we're doing.
How much we bring our speed down would depend on a number of factors, including how wide or narrow the turn is, how many lanes there are, how sharp the turn is, whether it's a blind/closed junction, whether it's a give way or stop line, other traffic, road conditions, weather conditions, and even your own skill and ability etc.
Being able to decide what speed and gear to use for different junctions again comes with experience - your instructor can support you with this.
Last but not least, it's important to look!
We need to look out of the junction if we're emerging, to make sure it's safe to turn - this would include looking left and right at a typical T junction for example. Even if we were turning left, it's still important to check to the left - what if there was a vehicle overtaking another vehicle, and was in your lane on the main road?
If we were turning into a junction, it would still be important to look around - if you're turning right we need to ensure there are no oncoming vehicles who we need to give priority to, and whenever we turn into a junction it's important to check the road is clear first! Imagine if there was a pedestrian walking across the new road, or there was a queue of traffic in the new road?
It's important to take in your surroundings, look out for hazards, plan ahead, have good car control, have good judgement, and good decision making skills.
We hope this post has been informative!
Next week we're looking at... your Knowledge!