Traffic circles are a roundabout way to safety, says expert

While they’ve always been common overseas, roundabouts are rare in Canada, but more municipalities are starting to use them.

Also known as traffic circles, they keep vehicles moving smoothly and help eliminate “T-bone” collisions, which can be among the deadliest of crashes.

“They’re forgiving in their design, and they’re good for the environment,” says Cam Woolley, traffic and safety specialist for CP24. “They’re so different from what we’re used to experiencing.”

Traffic moves counter-clockwise in the roundabout, and drivers enter on their left side, “the same as if you were merging onto a highway ramp,” Woolley says. Your entrance to the circle will be marked with a yield sign.

As you approach, look to see where vehicles are in the circle, including cars that are approaching it and will also be entering. Although you’ll be primarily looking to your left for oncoming traffic, always turn your head to the right, to make sure there aren’t any pedestrians crossing in front of you.

Traffic already in the circle has the right-of-way, and you must stop at the yield sign until the lane is clear. If there’s no oncoming traffic, and it’s safe to do so, you can enter without stopping first.

“At times, there may be three or four cars in the circle, with others entering,” Woolley says. “Some people think that only one person is allowed inside (at a time) and they’ll wait for that car to leave, but it’s not the same as a four-way stop.”

Once you’re in the circle, continue driving counter-clockwise (to your left) until you reach your exit. On larger roundabouts, there will be a sign as you approach that indicates the streets on the circle, so you’ll know in advance which exit is yours. You’re required by law to use your turn signal when you enter and before you exit — turn it on as soon as you pass the last exit before yours — to let other drivers know your intention.

Unless you’re braking to avoid a collision, never stop when you’re in the roundabout. If you miss your exit, just continue around the circle until you come to it again. “You can stay in the circle as long as you want, but you can’t reverse,” Woolley says. “They’re basically a one-way street in a circle.”

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