How to Circumnavigate US Roundabouts
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How to Circumnavigate US Roundabouts

The sun is shining, and the fall colors are in full bloom - this is the perfect day for a Sunday drive. Suddenly, another one of those darn “road doughnuts” appears. The Sunday drive is just about to be a little less perfect. One driver is heading in the wrong direction and is at risk of a head-on collision, most of the others are uselessly turning on their signal to enter but not properly using it to exit causing others to miss their opportunity to enter while the streets back up with traffic, and pedestrians are dodging out of the way in all the confusion. Who could have possibly thought this was a good idea? Unfortunately, the problem lies with lack of driver education on the proper handling of these road circles. In areas of the US and the UK where these are more common, traffic flows much better than in intersections of similar size that use stoplights. Areas that are not used to these strange new traffic control devices need to only become familiar with the rules and etiquette that govern them. With everyone on the same page, traffic flow will once again resume even better than it did before.

When and where did they come from?

Roundabouts actually started here in the US around 1905. The rules and the design of the traffic circles back then was such that they led to an increase in traffic collisions. As a result, they were essentially abandoned around the 1950s. In 1966, the United Kingdom redesigned the circles and changed the rules that govern the traffic within. The new design and rules increased traffic flow and reduced collisions over standard stoplights. The success of the UK roundabout was noticed, and the US eventually began re-introducing the modern UK style roundabout. Today, these roundabouts can be seen anywhere from urban areas in large cities to small suburban outlying towns.

While the modern roundabout has been around for decades, they have been few and far between until the past couple years where many towns are suddenly seeing them appear everywhere. Many of us were not taught about roundabouts in driver's education, and most of us have a habit of not keeping up-to-date on new traffic laws and guidelines.

For a quick and easy crash course on roundabouts, read on:

Crash course on circumnavigating US roundabouts

  • Always travel in a counterclockwise direction within the roundabout.

  • For multi-lane roundabouts, watch for regulatory signs (white signs with black printing) while approaching a roundabout indicating which lane you need for your desired exit. Try to be in that lane before you enter the roundabout.

  • As you enter the roundabout, yield to pedestrians and traffic already in the roundabout (if this means that you need to come to a stop before entering the roundabout, then so be it - cars already in the roundabout have the right-of-way).

  • It is preferred that you do not use your turn signal to enter the roundabout (it is assumed that you are going to travel in a counterclockwise direction).

  • Avoid changing lanes, and do not pass other vehicles once in the roundabout.

  • To exit the roundabout, turn on your signal as soon as you are past the exit immediately before your exit (doing so is required by law and notifies those in the roundabout that you may be slowing as well as allows others to prepare to enter the gap you will be leaving).

  • Watch for pedestrians as you exit.

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