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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Getting around roundabouts

Given the proliferation of roundabouts around here over the last couple decades, the Washington State Department of Transportation is evidently a fan of them.  Since drivers have had such steadily growing exposure, one might surmise that drivers would know how to negotiate them.

Nevertheless, apprehensive drivers still commit a basic faux pas while approaching the circular wonder — they stop!  Well that’s perfectly fine if the roundabout is stuffed with traffic, but absolutely not necessary when one can blend with sparse-to-nil traffic within the circle — which is most of the time.

In other words, it is the responsibility of vehicles entering a roundabout to yield to vehicles already travelling there — but NOT stop before entering when there are no autos within it.

That sort of illogical, illegal stop goes against the traffic-flow advantage that roundabouts have over other traffic control.  When intersection traffic is light or non-existent, approaching vehicles can simply slow down, enter the roundabout, then go straight, right, left, or return to where they came from. Cars are seldom lined up waiting to enter a roundabout as they are waiting for a red light to change at a typical intersection, allowing them to cross or make turns.

It seems that something may hamper driver mastery of the concept — a false confidence that they already know what they are doing.  A PEMCO Insurance poll found that most Washington feel confident in their ability to navigate roundabouts correctly. And besides the potentially unfounded faith in their own traffic circle skills, the poll shows that many believe other drivers aren’t adept as they are.

“Intersections of all kinds can be tricky, especially here in the Northwest where some drivers have a reputation for being too polite when yielding the right-of-way. And for drivers who aren’t completely accustomed to them, roundabouts can be downright dizzying,” said PEMCO Spokesperson Derek Wing. “Interestingly, despite the high-level confidence, our data also indicate that drivers may not be as skilled as they think at navigating roundabouts.”

The over-rating-of-driving-skills may be “interesting,” but certainly not surprising. Though vehicle operation is not that tough, the process of successful driving involves countless other skills—skills which very few drivers excel in applying at all times.

While roundabouts save lives by eliminating high-speed intersection collisions, expedite the flow of traffic and eliminate traffic signal cost and maintenance, many drivers here resist them.  Maybe that’s why the learning curve is slow — according to the poll, one-third of northwest drivers oppose replacing traditional intersections with roundabouts.

The Washington State Department of Transportation Website has information on existing and future roundabout locations along with complete tips for approaching, travelling and exiting one-lane and two-lane roundabouts.

Here are some basic tips to note and practice:  Yield to drivers in the roundabout; Stay in your lane — do not change lanes; Do not stop in the roundabout — or before entering it unless yielding to traffic within the roundabout; Avoid driving next to oversize vehicles.

We can all improve at nearly every driving skill.  Getting smoothly through roundabouts is one of those many skills easily mastered with some knowledge and practice.  If you overestimate your ability while lacking knowledge and practice you’re certain to hamper mastery of the task.

It’s important to know where roundabouts are and how to use them when you encounter them.  They are here to stay — resistance is futile.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at