How to Handle a Roundabout

How to Handle a Roundabout

If you’ve ever found yourself wishing that the light would just change because there’s no one coming in the opposite direction, then you understand the basic concept behind the creation of the roundabout. A roundabout is a unique type of intersection that’s growing in popularity in municipalities around the country in lieu of stoplights. It allows for continued flow of vehicles through the intersection with minimal stopping and reduced overhead costs (no light to maintain), while also gives cyclists and pedestrians clear direction. It also increases the safety of busy intersections significantly. 

Yet for drivers who aren’t used to roundabouts, knowing how to navigate them isn’t always easy. Who has the right-of-way? Should you yield or should you go? How do you exit? These are important questions that must be answered before roundabouts will enjoy their full effectiveness.

Before digging into the details of how to use a roundabout, you need to know that there are two types of roundabouts: single-lane roundabouts, and their slightly more efficient sibling – the double-lane roundabouts. 


Why Roundabouts? 

Though they may frustrate drivers who aren’t accustomed to them, numerous studies have shown that roundabouts can decrease crash risk significantly when they replace traditional intersections. Because drivers enter and exit using only right turns, and all drivers follow the same rules, a roundabout makes a T-bone crash – one of the most deadly types – almost impossible. Similarly, because drivers are all traveling in the same direction, head-on collisions – the other significantly dangerous type – are impossible. Yet for drivers who are unfamiliar with roundabouts, knowing how to navigate them is difficult.


Basic Tips for All Roundabouts

Some tips apply to all roundabouts, regardless of how many lanes they have. First, the drivers who are already in the roundabout have the right-of-way, so you must yield to them. Stay in your lane and do not change lanes while in the roundabout, and never stop in one unless you have an absolute emergency and our car is not drivable. If an oversized vehicle enters the roundabout, stay back so you don’t have to drive next to it; remember, these vehicles need a large turning radius. 

If you find roundabouts confusing, you may accidentally miss your exit. That’s fine; all you need to do is continue around the roundabout a second time to reach your exit. 


Tips for Single-Lane Roundabouts

Single-lane roundabouts are easier to navigate than double-lane ones. As you approach the intersection, you should notice a “roundabout ahead” sign. This sign will post the recommended speed limit, which is going to be significantly lower than the limit on the road. Slow down.

As you enter the roundabout, watch for the crosswalk, and avoid hitting any pedestrians. As you enter the roundabout look to the left as you approach the yield sign to spot any oncoming traffic. Yield to that traffic if it’s there.

When you see space in the traffic, enter the circle and drive around to your exit. If the roundabout is empty, you don’t have to yield or stop but can simply travel around to your exit.

Even though it may seem obvious that you’re turning, always signal your exit when you’re ready to leave the roundabout. That way any cars or pedestrians sharing the intersection with you won’t be surprised.


Tips for Navigating a Multi-Lane Roundabout

Multi-lane roundabouts can make even the most seasoned driver feel anxious. If you don’t know how these work, you can feel like you’re approaching a traffic mess. However, they’re easier than you think once you understand a bit more about them.

First, as you approach the intersection, you will see a sign that indicates which lane you can use for which exits. Choose the lane that coordinates with the exit you need to take before you enter the roundabout. If you’re going to go straight at the intersection or take the right exit, you will get in the right lane. If you’re going to go straight or take the left exit, or if you need to do a u-turn, you will take the left lane. 

Committing to the right lane makes these roundabouts much easier. As you approach, watch for pedestrians and yield at the yield line if needed. The difference here is that you must yield to both lanes of traffic, not just the one you’re in.

As soon as you spot a gap, enter the roundabout, staying in your lane. The inner lane is the left lane and the outer lane is the right lane. Watch for pedestrians and signal your exit. Remember that you aren’t required to yield if the intersection has no traffic in it. 

Are you confused yet? This video shows typical movement in a roundabout and may help:

Trucks and Other Oversized Vehicles

Entering a roundabout is daunting, but when you have a big vehicle, you may find the task even more frightening. Don’t worry, roundabouts are designed so that they can accommodate vehicles of all sizes, so farm equipment, emergency services , and buses can all enter the roundabout without fear. However, sometimes the larger vehicles will have to straddle both lanes when driving through a round about. In this case, you will need to follow far behind to avoid a collision.

Some roundabouts have what is called a truck apron. This raised section in the center island is designed to give large vehicles a place for their back wheels to ride up as they navigate the turn. If you see a truck driving with its rear tires on this apron, don’t worry. This is normal. Just make sure that you don’t drive next to large vehicles in a roundabout, and you will be safe.


Yes, roundabouts are confusing at first, but when you get the feel for them, you will be able to realize their benefits. Remember, with a roundabout, you’ll never get stuck behind a stoplight at a busy intersection again!

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