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Roundabouts and How to Use Them

By: Tracy Wilkinson - Updated: 13 Oct 2010 | comments*Discuss
Roundabouts Yielding To Traffic From The

Some places have lots of them, some have very few. In America they're known as 'rotaries'. If you ever go to Swindon, you'll need to know how to navigate one because there are more there than anywhere else in the UK.

What am I talking about? Roundabouts!

What is a Roundabout?

According to the dictionary, a roundabout is a type of road junction or traffic calming device that leads traffic around a central island after yielding to the circulating traffic - in the UK, priority is given to traffic coming around the roundabout from the right hand side.

Why do we Use Roundabouts?

The modern roundabout has been around since 1904 when the first modern roundabout or 'traffic circle' was constructed in New York City, USA. In the 1960's British Engineers re-engineered the existing 'traffic circle' to overcome the previous limitations it had and began to introduce them on a massive scale across the country.

Roundabouts are believed to be a safer alternative to traditional junctions and many have been introduced over recent years as traffic-calming measures - to break up long A and B roads with the aim of reducing gradual speeding. Surveys have shown that 40% fewer vehicle collisions took place with 80% fewer injuries on roundabouts when compared with the results of the intersections that they had replaced. They also showed that there was a 90% reduction in serious injuries and fatalities.

Roundabouts are usually more popular than junctions or traffic lights as they allow motorists to move more freely with the flow of traffic and tend not to create large backlogs of traffic, as traffic lights can do. Larger roundabouts can be problematic though and there have been stories of people (especially new or inexperienced drivers) getting stuck on a roundabout and going around and around until the traffic calmed down and they were able to get off it unscathed, if a little dizzy.

Approaching a Roundabout

When approaching a roundabout, you should use Mirror - Signal - Manoeuvre at all times and continually adjust your speed and position to fit in with traffic conditions. Before you get onto a roundabout you should make sure that you are fully aware of the situation around you - including where you are entering the roundabout and which exit you should be leaving it from. On approach, you should be able to see a road sign that will indicate the shape of the roundabout and how many exits there are in total.

Safely Navigating a Roundabout

If you get your speed and gear right and the way is clear, on many occasions you will be able to merge with the moving traffic without stopping. Once you get onto the roundabout, keep a reasonable speed otherwise you may find that other drivers are confused by your actions and may end up overtaking you on the inside, which could cause problems for you and other roundabout users.

Always keep an eye on your mirrors but most importantly watch the car in front of you. Many accidents on roundabouts occur as drivers rear-end the car in front of them because they are watching the traffic on the roundabout not the traffic waiting to get on it. Make sure the vehicle has actually moved away before you start to move forward.

It's also important to be aware that many people don't understand roundabouts, or how to signal properly on them, so what they are telling you with their indicators might not be what they are actually about to do.

The following advice assumes a roundabout has 3 exits and is a handy guide to follow:

To Turn Left (leaving at the first exit)
  • Signals left, and approach the roundabout in the left-hand lane.
  • Keep to the left of the roundabout and signal left to leave
To Go Straight On (leaving at the second exit)
  • Choose the appropriate lane on approach to and on the roundabout. If you can't see the markings on the road then it is usually the safest option to keep in the left lane.
  • Stay in this lane until you are getting ready to exit the roundabout
  • Indicate left after you have passed the exit before the one you want.
To Turn Right (leaving at the third exit)
  • Indicate right and approach the roundabout in the right-hand lane
  • Keep to the right-hand lane on the roundabout until you need to change lanes to exit the roundabout
  • Signal left after you have passed the exit before the one that you want.
In all cases, you should make sure to watch out for:
  • Pedestrians who may be crossing the approach to the roundabout or exit roads.
  • Traffic crossing in front of you - most importantly vehicles that are going to leave at the next exit
  • Traffic straddling lanes or positioned incorrectly
  • Motorcyclists
  • Cyclists and horse riders (who must stay in the left hand lane but signal right if they intend to go around the roundabout
  • Long vehicles - they may have to move across several lanes, so be careful and watch for their signals.

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