Roundabouts: Why You Should Love Them (And How to Drive Them)

Roundabouts are circular intersections that started popping up on America’s highways in the 1990s. However, they have been widely used in many other countries for years prior to that. And for good reason: research shows that roundabouts improve traffic safety by reducing collisions.

Even so, many American drivers have been frustrated and confused about how to navigate roundabouts. (Perhaps this Chevy Chase scene comes to mind.)

Thankfully, you needn’t be stuck in a roundabout for hours like a merry-go-round. Let’s learn more about what makes these unique intersections awesome and how to handle them like a pro.

Why Roundabouts are Safer than Traditional Intersections

Roundabouts have several features that make them safer than traditional traffic signal intersections:

  • Slower speeds. Lower speeds mean a reduction in serious injury collisions.
  • Fewer impact points. Since all cars travel in the same direction in a roundabout, scenarios like t-bone and head-on collisions are avoided.
  • Yield control. Everyone must yield before entering the roundabout.
  • Traffic flow. It’s been proven that roundabouts keep the flow of traffic moving. This also eliminates dangerous situations such as red-light runners.

When a traditional intersection is replaced with a roundabout, there is typically a 75% reduction in injury-related car accidents.

Other Benefits of Roundabouts You Might Not Have Thought Of

To be sure, safety is the main benefit of roundabouts. But there are other reasons cities and communities should consider adding them.

  • Aesthetically pleasing. A roundabout can be a beautiful spot for showy landscaping, a water feature, or statue.
  • No reliance on electricity. Not only is this a long-term cost savings, but it’s a benefit during power outages.
  • Urban noise reduction. By reducing stops, starts, and accelerations, traffic noise is greatly reduced.

As you can see, there are lots of reasons to fall in love with these circular traffic features.

How to Drive Roundabouts: The Basics

The most important thing to remember about roundabouts is to pack your patience. Remember, they were designed to get you to slow down and pay attention – the very things that prevent car accidents.

First, yield to pedestrians. In a typical roundabout, you will find crosswalks before approaching the roundabout. Next, yield to any vehicles currently in the roundabout. Cars in the roundabout always have the right-of-way.

Remember to use your turn signals. Indicate right if you are making an immediate right-hand turn. You do not need to use a signal if going straight. What if you are making a left-hand turn or u-turn? Start by using your left-hand turn signal when entering the roundabout. Just prior to exiting, switch it to indicate right. (WSDOT has an excellent video demonstration of how to signal in a roundabout.)

Some roundabouts may have a couple lanes. If you encounter one like this, make sure you’re in the correct lane before entering the roundabout. Choose the right lane if you’re making a right-hand turn or going straight. Pick the left lane for left and u-turns. Whatever you do, don’t attempt to change lanes while in the roundabout.

Large Trucks and Roundabouts

If you encounter a large truck while using a roundabout, be sure to give them extra space. Large trucks can’t turn as sharply as smaller passenger vehicles. Do not try to pass or crowd a large truck in a roundabout.

Make sure to see our blog post about avoiding collisions with large trucks for more on this topic.

Emergency Vehicles and Roundabouts

What should you do if you’re approaching a roundabout and you hear an ambulance siren coming up behind you? Remember that larger vehicles will need room to negotiate the roundabout.

Here’s what to do:

  1. If you have not entered the roundabout yet, stop. Pull over to the right and allow the emergency vehicle to pass.
  2. If you are in the roundabout, make sure to exit before pulling over to the right.

In other words, do not stop in the middle of the roundabout. You will prevent the vehicle from being able to pass you. We’ve written more about how drivers can help first responders. Give it a read.

Learning More about Roundabouts

We wanted to leave you with a few great resources about roundabouts that we stumbled on while researching this blog post.

Driving Modern RoundaboutsCreated by WSDOT, this simple video demonstration will boost your confidence in handling our road’s roundabouts.

Should Traffic Lights Be Abolished? Freakonomics Podcast. Podcast listeners, add this one to your queue for a deeper dive on the topic of roundabouts.

Roundabouts: The Problem is You. Stuff You Should Know Podcast. Another great podcast episode that will make you give roundabouts a second look.

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