Roundabouts, love them or hate them, are becoming more common around the U.S., in Atlanta metro, and in Forsyth County.
I’ve observed a few of my fellow drivers at some local roundabouts, and it’s apparent that some drivers lack knowledge on how roundabouts work.
Admittedly, roundabouts weren’t really a thing when many of us took driver’s education courses, but it’s your responsibility as a driver to learn about traffic laws and new traffic features.
Hopefully I can shine some light on these curvy intersections to help improve traffic flow, congestion, and safety while eliminating some frustration, honking and hand signals.
So how do roundabouts work?
Well, they aren’t just 4-way stops with fancy landscaping … In fact, you may have noticed there are no stop signs at a roundabout, only yield signs.
Sadly, the yield sign is probably the least understood sign on the road. Don’t overthink them; yield signs are easy to understand.
If the yield sign is facing you, you do not have the right of way. If you have a yield sign, everyone else gets to go first: that car on the main road, the one making a left turn opposite of you, the person making a U-turn, the pedestrian or bicyclist crossing your path — all of them get to go first. But if there is no one else to yield to, you just keep moving.
No stop is required unless you’re yielding to someone else.
So how do you handle the yield signs at a roundabout?
The yield signs are all at the entrances. When approaching a roundabout, look left into the roundabout.
Is there traffic coming around from your left that might cross in front of you? Then slow down and let them proceed in the roundabout. Only stop if there is enough traffic in the roundabout that you can’t merge into a gap. Try not to cut off cars in the roundabout forcing them to slow or stop as that will impede the flow of the entire intersection.
If you do have to stop at the entrance, keep looking left and proceed as soon as there is space in the roundabout for you to get into. Don’t worry about the other entrances to the roundabout. The people across from you or to the right will have to yield to you once you are in the roundabout.
Do worry about pedestrians and bicycles. You do need to stop for them if they are crossing at an entrance or exit to the roundabout.
OK, so now you are in the roundabout. Traffic in the roundabout has the right-of-way and should keep moving at all times (except to prevent a crash). You should never stop in a roundabout to let someone in.
Roundabouts don’t work correctly if you think you need to take turns or be polite. Drive at a reasonable pace in the roundabout until you exit it at your desired street. Now accelerate away from the roundabout.
So why are roundabouts becoming more common?
There are three primary benefits. First is safety. Studies from the NHTSA and IIHS have shown that crashes are greatly reduced at roundabouts and that the crashes that do happen are often minor.
Secondly, speed and traffic flow. Stop signs are very inefficient and cause a lot of congestion. Roundabouts have a much better flow speed and capacity than traditional stop sign intersections and even some traffic lights.
As a result, the third benefit is the environmental benefit of less exhaust due to accelerating from a stop and idling, plus less brake dust from slowing down.
There are some downsides to roundabouts, plus some are poorly placed which can be frustrating.
The biggest problems are when traffic comes to a stop in the roundabout. This can be caused by traffic congestion, placement of the roundabout too close to another intersection that requires stopping, or even an accident or other obstruction.
Once traffic in the roundabout comes to a stop, all routes leading into the roundabout are stuck. A prime example of a poorly placed roundabout is by Costco in Cumming where it is mere feet from a traffic light.
Another downside to roundabouts is space and as such cost.
Roundabouts take up significantly more space than a normal intersection and with the high cost of right-of-way and construction for government transportation projects roundabouts can be very pricey. Often the cost is worth it though if it improves the flow and reduces accidents.
If this still doesn’t make sense or you hear honking every time you’re in one (probably directed toward you), do a search for more information online. There are many video tutorials for how to navigate these intersections.
Roundabouts are here to stay and you’ll learn to love them if they are working properly.
Daniel Fleck is a resident of Forsyth County, engineer and driving enthusiast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.