Traffic circles (aka roundabouts) have been known to cause headaches, steering-wheel abuse, swearing, and claims. They even have the uncanny ability to cause accidents at slow speeds. For some, it’s more a web of confusion than an instrument of convenience.
So, what’s the deal?
Traffic circles are intended to calm traffic, reduce head-on or T-bone collisions and improve intersection capacity …if you drive by the rules.
Sadly, circles often cause accidents as many drivers apply their own interpretation to the rules of the road.
Firstly, you should know that there are, in fact, 2 different types of circles used on South African roads to direct traffic flow. Secondly, each has a different set of rules when it comes to who goes first and how. BTW being polite also helps…just saying.
The first, and more common one is a mini-circle, which looks like this:
A mini-circle is identified by broken yield lines at the approach, and a small island hump in the middle of the intersection which the driver must go around and not drive over. Essentially, a mini-circle is much like a 4-way stop. A dead stop is not required, but a slow approach, ensuring the circle is free of traffic before proceeding, is safest.
A mini-circle is generally used quite effectively as it is simply a variation on the typical, 4-way stop intersection.
Roundabouts, or Traffic Circles
The second, more complex intersection is a traffic circle which some countries call a roundabout. These are often larger, multi-lane intersections with large circles. These circles cause the most confusion, frustration and collisions. Drivers are often uncertain who has right of way or how to indicate correctly in a traffic circle. But you’re going to ace it when you see the following sign.
In South Africa, we approach a traffic circle from the right, yield to traffic on the right and go around it clockwise.
Seems straightforward. The trouble crops up once you are inside the circle. The main culprits for side-swipes and collisions here are drivers who are unaware of how to exit a traffic circle. They often do so driving at speed and failing to indicate their next actions.
3 tips to prevent traffic circle tragedies:
Approaching the traffic circle:
Figure out which lane you should be in for your onward direction before entering the circle. If you’re taking the first exit in the circle, enter in the left-hand lane if possible. If you’re taking the last exit, enter in the right-hand lane and apply the exit rules (see 3 below).
Changing lanes within a traffic circle:
Depending on traffic conditions in the circle, you may be forced into an inappropriate lane. You should only proceed to the correct lane once it is safe to do so. If you enter the circle in the inner, right lane and want to exit immediately left, you should, in fact, drive around the circle until you are able to move to the outer lane without hindering any traffic in the outer lane that may be wanting to proceed to the next exit. A double lap for safety, skat!
Indicating in and exiting a traffic circle:
Your indicator should be used to signal your intended use of the circle. As you enter a circle, indicate whether you will be turning left or right out of the circle (no signal for a straight journey). As you move past the exit before your intended exit, change your signaling to match your path: if you’re going left, indicate left; if you’re going right, indicate right. Move out of the circle only if there is no traffic hindering your safe exit. If there is, do another lap. Waving.
If you’re still confused and want to watch a short clip of traffic circles –here’s one:
By following these basic rules of the road (and being patient and courteous) drivers can make traffic circles much safer intersections and reduce accident rates.