It’s probably been a few years since you took your driver’s license test, so you’d be forgiven for forgetting how traffic circles or roundabouts work. Even small traffic circles can be confusing for motorists, especially when other drivers also don’t know who gets right of way.

Luckily, it’s pretty simple to remember – all you need is to refresh your memory once in a while. Here’s our quick and easy guide to help you navigate all sizes of circles!

What’s the point of a circle?

Despite what you may think when you’re stuck in traffic at 5pm on a Friday, roundabouts weren’t created to personally torture you. Primarily, they’re used to avoid confusion in highly congested areas. Along with this, they force motorists to slow down, thereby preventing major accidents.

Roundabouts are touted by engineers as the most effective solution for traffic management: while they cost more to build than intersections, they aren’t vulnerable to cable theft, don’t require constant power and, over the long-term, are a low maintenance option.

But there’s no reason for alarm just yet – South Africa has no plans to implement widescale adoption of traffic circles, like some pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly countries like the Netherlands have done.

Know your circles from your roundabouts

Did you know there are actually two types of roundabouts in South Africa?

  • Mini-circles are 7m – 10m in diameter and are usually found in suburban neighbourhoods or areas like shopping malls to help ease the flow of traffic. The curb of these mini-circles is mountable so heavy vehicles without turning clearance can drive over the entire circle.
  • Roundabouts are generally 16m in diameter and only a section of the curb is mountable for heavy vehicles, so trying to drive over them in the same way as a mini-circle presents the risk of damaging your tyres or vehicle. These larger roundabouts are usually found in city centres and can be intimidating for new drivers or drivers who aren’t clued up on who gets right of way.

The rules for mini-circles and roundabouts

Mini-circles should be treated like a four-way stop street: whoever arrives at the circle first has right of way to pass through the circle. Circles should always be driven through in a clockwise direction, so no matter where you enter the circle, you should to turn left into the circle.

The rules at roundabouts are different, and you need to give way to the vehicle entering on your right. Once you have a gap to enter, you may do so when it is safe. Large roundabouts also often have multiple lanes, so it’s important to know where you’re exiting before you enter the roundabout.

If you’re taking the first exit or going straight, you should stay in the outermost lane, and if you’re taking the last exit or doing a U-turn you should take the innermost lane and only move to the outermost lane as your exit comes up.

Whether you’re using a mini-circle or roundabout, you should always use your indicator so other drivers know your intentions and can react accordingly. Don’t turn your indicator on too soon, especially if there are multiple exits, as this can confuse other drivers – instead, turn your left indicator on immediately after passing the exit before the one you intend to take.

The world’s worst roundabout

The Magic Roundabout in Swinden, UK, has been voted as the world’s worst roundabout and it’s not hard to see why – the roundabout is made up of mini-roundabouts arranged in a circle, which often confuses drivers and causes them to drive the wrong way around the circle.

Next time you get annoyed at a roundabout, spare a though for the poor Brits in Swindon who have to compete with this behemoth on their daily commute.


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