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How to Use a Roundabout in Traffic

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The roundabout illustrated by me, or a 2nd grader.

This is how to safely travel around a roundabout.

illustration by Matt Wright, 2012
A roundabout is a relatively simple idea for traffic control. There is a circle at the center with roads shooting off the circle like the spokes of a bicycle. You pull up to the circle, wait until it's safe to enter, then drive around until you get to your street, at which point you drive away without stopping again. That's the simple description that fits small roundabouts with only a single lane of traffic in the circle.

Multiple lane roundabouts are much more confusing. The biggest mistake made by drivers is entering the wrong lane of the roundabout. There are things times you should be on the inside lane and times you need to be on the outside lane of the roundabout. The outside lane is only for immediate exit of the roundabout. For instance, if you want to make a right turn onto the next road, enter the outside lane of the roundabout (see the red "A" above) and immediately turn right. if you want to take any other road, you need to choose the center lane of the roundabout. For instance, if you want to go straight across (see the green "B" above) you will choose the left entrance lane, then when traffic clears enter the center lane of the roundabout. Drive past the first street and continue across to the street you want. The problem here is you're afraid that you're going to be hit as you cross the lane of traffic to your right. Since the person in that lane must exit the roundabout at the same street you will, there will be no collision. The same theory applies of you want to take a street that is further around the circle (see the yellow "C" above). You enter from the left lane, choose the center of the circle, and exit safely when you reach your desired street.

This all works well when all drivers know how to use the roundabout, however I consistently encounter drivers who choose the right lane, but travel around the entire circle, cutting off cars at each exit and causing the potential for lots of accidents. You shouldn't have to fix a dent every time you use a roundabout. Don't use the outside lane unless you are making an immediate right turn!

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