Roundabouts: Quirks and Confusions

Having spent much time travelling abroad throughout the UK, France, Spain and Germany, I like to fancy myself as having seen many roundabouts in my time. The majority of all roundabouts in the world are on European roads. By comparison, there were 2,000 roundabouts in the U.S. as of 2010 versus 30,000 in France alone as of 2008 (2008 National Roundabout Conference, B. Guichet’s presentation).

The Modern Roundabout’s Appearance in North America

In general, I was pleasantly surprised to see them popping up in North America over the past several years. Statistically, roundabouts are safer for drivers and pedestrians than both traffic circles and traditional intersections (Shashi S. Nambisan, Venu Parimi. “A Comparative Evaluation of the Safety Performance of Roundabouts and Traditional Intersection Controls”).

There are only three very simple rules to consider when entering a roundabout, yet many North American motorists seem utterly confused by them. These are:

1. The automobile inside the circle has the right-of-way
2. The automobile who reaches the yield sign first has the first right to enter the circle.
3. If two autos arrive at the yield sign at the same time, the automobile on the right should enter first.

The rules seem fairly straightforward on paper, no? Yet it’s obvious that there is still a severe lack of understanding when it comes to practice. For your convenience (and amusement alike), here is a list of my four ‘favourite’ types of North American roundabout drivers.

1. The Blocker. This driver stops dead at the yield sign. This driver will wait until all other automobiles in view have arrived at the roundabout and passed through it. Even if that means waiting for 20 cars to pass. The approaching car may be a half a kilometer away but the parked “Blocker” will patiently wait. Everybody has the right of way but them. Only when there is not another car in sight will “the Blocker” timidly enter the roundabout and proceed to their destination.

2. The Speedy Gonzales. This driver believes that they have the right of way because of their speed. They roar confidently toward the roundabout, ignoring all other drivers approaching from all other sides, believing that the yield sign does not apply to them.

3. The Convoy. This driver believes that they automatically inherit the rights of the driver before them, as long as they maintain the same speed and tail gate closely behind. The car to their right, which has obviously arrived at the yield sign before them, has to wait because The Convoy has invoked a “group privilege.”

4. The Confused. This driver has absolutely no idea what is going on. They want to turn left, but there are so many cars coming at them from that direction that they freeze. Instead of noting the sign that states “Right Turns Only” or the fact that everyone else is turning right, they painstakingly wait until the roundabout is clear and awkwardly turn left. With any luck, they’ll avoid a head-on collision and live to repeat the feat.