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Tricky Junctions And How To Deal With Them

Aerial view of crossroads in New York

If learning to drive wasn’t complicated enough for you, the driving test will certainly take the cake. No stone, or rather, road type, is left unturned during the practical. Indeed, driving examiners will use everything at their disposal to ensure you’re well and truly put though your paces. (Who said becoming a fully qualified driver would be easy?!). Some of the trickiest parts of your test route will be junctions. If you’re looking to pass with flying colours, then it’s important you know how to deal with junctions properly.

We’re going to walk you through the different types of junctions that you’re likely encounter on your test, how to recognise them and how to approach them safely. We’ll also throw in some additional advice to help you impress your examiner. Enjoy!


Road junctions

As any learner worth their salt knows, nothing is ever quite as simple as it should be when it comes to driving. Instead of describing a single road feature, ‘junction’ could refer to a variety of road types that join different roads together. Example junctions—which you may already be familiar with—can be found in the table below.

T-junctions

Empty T-junction on the B482
Photo © Sarah Charlesworth (cc-by-sa/2.0)
 

One of the most common types of junctions out there, T-junctions are when one road meets another in a T-shape (hence the name).

These types of junctions can feature ‘stop’, ‘give way’ or minimum/maximum speed signs. They may or may not feature road markings, depending on their location.

You’ll almost definitely you’ll encounter T-junctions in your practical, with this common road feature occurring on both major and minor roads.

Y-junctions

Empty Y-junction near Bardwell Suffolk
Photo © Keith Evans (cc-by-sa/2.0)
 

As with T-junctions, Y-junctions are given their name due to their resemblance to the letter. Y-junctions typically have a major road ahead with a minor road joining at an angle.

Again, depending on the location of the Y-junction, there may or may not be road markings in place to direct road priority.

It’s highly likely that you’ll come across Y-junctions in your practical. You can find them on minor roads, dual carriageways and motorways—the latter of which will not feature on your test. 

Crossroads

Empty crossroads near Pelynt
Photo © Richard Williams (CC BY-SA 2.0)
 

Crossroads are pretty self-explanatory. It’s essentially when two or more roads cross one another.

Though they might seem simple enough, they can be pretty hazardous if they’re unmarked—so watch out! Stay vigilant even with marked and controlled crossroads. 

It’s unlikely that your test route won’t feature crossroads, so swot up! Take special care to look for pedestrians and cyclists.

Staggered junctions

Empty staggered junction in Herefordshire
Photo © Jonathan Billinger (cc-by/2.0)
 

Staggered junctions are very similar to crossroads, except that they’re offset. Typically, a minor road will meet a major road and continue onto a minor road slightly further ahead.

If traffic lights aren’t available, you’ll undoubtedly see ‘give way’ or ‘stop’ signs scattered around the junction.

If a staggered junction crops up on your test, you should take great care with road positioning and signalling. 

Roundabouts

Empty roundabout ahead

 

Ah, roundabouts. The bane of many a learner’s existence. Though you might not have realised it, roundabouts are a type of junction.

You’ll usually get plenty of advance warning with road signs upon the approach to a roundabout. 

If your local area contains a variety of roundabouts, they’re likely to feature in your test. If you’re not entirely comfortable with them, read up on the different types of roundabouts.


Ways in which junctions can differ

Aerial shot of a junction

Whilst we have already shown you the main types of junctions that you should be familiar with, they’re not always as cut and dry as you’d like. We briefly touched on this in our descriptions when we mentioned road markings. Let’s take a closer look…

🛣️ Open junctions

The best type of junction that you can get on your test, open junctions are when a driver has a clear and unobstructed view of the road ahead. This means that you should be able to quickly gauge whether the road ahead is clear or not. If it is clear, drivers will be able to simply move down a gear and drive on without having to stop. 

🌳 Closed junctions

Slightly more difficult to tackle than open junctions, closed junctions give drivers a far more limited view of the road ahead. Whether it’s trees or signposts, a driver will have a more difficult time gauging the volume of traffic on the road ahead. This means that drivers will have to slow down and come to a stop in order to see if it’s clear enough to emerge. 

❓ Blind junctions

At the opposite end of the spectrum, blind junctions, as the name suggests, are when a driver has no clear view of the road ahead. These tricky junctions force the driver to come to a stop at the end of the junction, before slowly creeping out bit by bit to determine if it’s clear ahead. 

🛑 Marked junctions

As you’d probably guess, these junctions have road markings to help the flow of traffic and direct who has priority. Marked junctions will also usually have ‘stop’ and ‘give way’ road signs scattered about. Junctions that are marked tend to be easier to tackle, as they give you clear indications as to where to stop and so on. 

⚠️ Unmarked junctions

If you prefer a bit of chaos in your life, unmarked junctions might be your new favourite type of junction. Unmarked junctions have no visible road markings available. You’ll usually encounter them in quieter or rural areas. If you’re not used to unmarked junctions, they can be tricky. As no-one has priority, it can become a free-for-all situation.

⬜ Box junctions

Box junctions feature a yellow box filled with crossed lines. The purpose of this box is to keep traffic moving—vehicles aren’t allowed to enter the box unless the road ahead of them is clear. Though they typically feature traffic lights to direct the flow of traffic, this isn’t always the case. If you’re not too familiar with them, we’d suggest reading up on our guide to box junction rules

🚦 Controlled junctions

Typically found in busier areas, these junctions are controlled by a set of traffic lights. They sometimes feature multiple lanes and a cyclist waiting area just before the lights. In addition to regular traffic lights, there might also be filter lights—keep your eye out for them. If you fail to move off in time during your test, you could end up with a fault for holding up traffic.


Signs related to junctions

There’s absolutely no way that you’ll be able to make it through your driving test without coming across a junction. Being able to spot a junction early enough, then, is pretty important. One of the ways in which you can do this is by keeping your eye out for road signs. Though not all junctions will provide ample warning in the way of signs, the busier ones surely will. 

So, if it’s been a while since you passed your theory test, or you’re just looking to solidify your knowledge, here are the main junction signs you might expect to see on approach…

Give way sign

Give way road sign

T-junction sign

T-junction ahead road sign

Crossroads sign

Crossroads ahead road sign

Staggered junction sign

Staggered junction ahead road sign

Junction on left bend sign  

Junction on left bend ahead road sign

Junction on right bend sign

Junction on right bend ahead road sign

Left side road ahead sign

Left side road ahead road sign

Right side road ahead sign

Right road sign ahead road sign

Stop line 100 yards junction sign

Stop at junction 100 yards road sign

Give way 50 yards junction sign

Give way at junction 50 yards road sign


How to deal with junctions

Cars entering and approaching a crossroads junction

If you’re well into your driving lessons by now, you should already know how to deal with junctions. If, however, you’re in need of some additional instruction or a quick confidence boost, we’re going to walk you through the process.

Make sure you spot them

Before you start laughing at us, you should know that plenty of learner drivers end up totting up driving test faults because they only spotted a junction at the last possible second. Preparation is key when it comes to driving. It’s one of the building blocks of hazard perception after all! Additionally, if you don’t notice a junction in time, you might end up braking harshly—which would have dire consequences if you have a tailgater—or driving past it.

You’ll be able to figure out pretty quickly whether there’s a junction up ahead or not. You’ll either see road signs and markings, or start to notice the traffic in front of you slowing down.

Do your checks

It’s vital that you go through the mirror-signal-manoeuvre (MSM) routine before you even think about moving into a junction. During your driving test, the examiner will have you under a microscope. They’ll be watching you to make sure you show adequate observation skills. So, don’t give them any room to doubt you. 

Start by checking your interior mirror to get a quick look at the traffic behind you and then check your left- or right-hand mirror. Once you’re sure there aren’t any potential hazards stopping you from taking action, use your left or right indicator.

Take action

You need to make sure your road positioning is correct as you start to make a move towards the junction. If you’re turning left, you won’t need to move much. If, on the other hand, you’re turning right, you’ll need to position your vehicle closer to the centre of the road. You’ll also need to be even more careful with your observation, as you’ll be crossing oncoming traffic.

If you’re dealing with an open junction and a clear road up ahead, you might be able to get away with moving down to a lower gear before continuing on your way into the road ahead. If you’re dealing with a busy or closed junction, however you’ll need to come to a stop. Once it’s clear, you can continue on your merry way. If you’re stuck at a blind junction, you’ll need  to slowly creep out to see if there’s any traffic approaching.

Do your checks (again!)

If you though observations were behind you, you’re sadly mistaken. After joining a new road, it’s important that you check your mirrors again. It’s not just vehicles that you have to keep an eye out for—you’ve got to be vigilant in spotting pedestrians and cyclists. With traffic fast approaching you, you’ll also need to make sure you don’t dally around too long. 


What are examiners looking for at junctions?

driving examiner marking a practical test sheet

Believe it or not, the driving test isn’t rocket science. Whilst it is difficult, of course, if you follow your instructor’s advice and your own common sense, you should be able to pass. Despite popular driving test myths, examiners aren’t trying to fail you on purpose. If you take care to display the skills they’re looking for, you should have no trouble at all. So, what are they looking for when it comes to junctions?

According to the driving test feedback sheet, learner drivers can pick up faults for the following…

Approach speed

If you approach a junction too quickly or slowly, you’re not showing the examiner adequate control of your vehicle. Once you know a junction is ahead, you should start to slow down. If you continue on without reducing your speed, you’ll end up having to slam on your brakes. Even if you can see that the road ahead is clear, you’ll still likely need to move down a gear. 

Though you might think that driving slowly will show the examiner how careful you are, it will have the opposite effect. Instead, they’ll assume you’re a hesitant driver who doesn’t know what they’re doing.

Observations

Though junctions can be tricky area in general for learners, observations at junctions is by far their biggest kryptonite. In fact, according to reports from the DVLA, it’s been the number one reason for learners failing their practical test for 10 years!

If you don’t fancy falling prey to the same mistakes as other learners, make sure you remember your MSM routine. You need to prove to the examiner that you’re aware of how quickly the road can change. So, look in your mirrors whenever you’re about to take action—paying close attention for cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians. If you want ample time to prepare for dealing with a junction, keep an eye out for any road signs or markings that will warn you.

Turning left or right

Road positioning is important when it comes to approaching a junction. If you’re too far to the left when you’re turning right, for example, you could be cutting off cars behind you that intend to turn left. Once you’ve spotted a junction and completed your checks, you need to position your vehicle well before you intend to turn.

Cutting corners

If you’re slow with your steering, or don’t move forward enough into the junction before steering, you could end up touching the pavement. If you actually mount the pavement, you’ll end up with a major fault. The solution to this is to make sure you’re not driving above second gear—you need to be moving slowly enough that your steering can keep up.


FAQs

1. Do I always need to stop at a junction?

If there’s a ‘stop’ sign, the answer is definitely yes! If you fail to follow the road sign, you’ll end up failing your driving test. If there isn’t such a sign, you could move onto the road ahead if you wanted. Of course, you’d need to make sure that the road was clear. If you’re doing your driving test, we’d suggest coming to a stop anyway, unless you’re 100% sure it’s clear.

2. At what speed should I approach a junction?

It all depends on whether there are any vehicles in front of you and whether the road ahead is clear. If it’s an open junction and there’s nothing in your way, you could approach and emerge in second gear. If, on the other hand, there are vehicles in front, or you’re not sure the road is clear, move down to first gear and come to a stop.

3. Who has right of way at an unmarked crossroads?

No-one has priority at an unmarked crossroads. That’s what makes them so dangerous if you’re not careful. Without road signs or markings, drivers have to use their common sense to gauge when it’s safe to go. Don’t just assume that you have right of way. Instead, complete your observations and wait for it to clear up. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!

4. Do pedestrians have right of way at junctions?

According to the Highway Code, pedestrians have priority and right of way if they have already started to cross a road at a junction that the driver wants to turn into. If, on the other hand, they’re waiting, then you have priority. Though you might be tempted to stop and let them go, you should bear in mind that oncoming traffic might not share your sentiments. Allowing a pedestrian to go could, therefore, be dangerous.

5. How many driving test faults can I get without failing?

There are two different categories of fault: major (officially, ‘serious’ or ‘dangerous’ faults) and minor. If you pick up any major faults during your test, you’ll automatically fail. As for minor faults, if you receive no more than 15, you’ll be able to get your hands on a full driving licence!

6. What kind of mistakes should I try to avoid when dealing with junctions in the driving test?

Lack of proper observation is what usually drags learners down in the practical test, so make sure you look properly and use your mirrors before taking action. Additional mistakes you’ll want to avoid are approaching junctions too fast or too slowly, cutting corners and poor road positioning when turning left or right.

7. Do I always need to signal at junctions?

Yes! You need to let other road users know what you intend to do. Once you’re on the approach to a junction, you should check your mirrors, signal in good time, reduce your speed and then decide whether you’re coming to a stop or continuing on (only if it’s an open and clear junction, of course). If you fail to signal during your driving test, the examiner will definitely give you a fault.

8. Can I stop in the cyclist waiting area at junctions?

There’s a good reason that it’s called a cyclist waiting area, and that’s because it’s for cyclists. When you’re coming up to a set of lights that has an area reserved for cyclists, you should stop at the first white line. It’s only when the lights turn green that you should move into the area—giving way to any cyclists that are waiting ahead of you.

By Bethany Hall

Whether you’re a learner or a pro driver, Bethany is here to help. From defensive driving to the Highway Code, she’ll tell you everything you need know about driving. If she’s not on the road, you’ll probably find Bethany with her head in a book or binge-watching the latest TV show.

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