Traffic circle roundabout sign

How To Navigate A Roundabout

Americans tend to be fond of stop signs and electric traffic lights—after all, we invented them—and we’ve installed them by the millions, leaving other setups, such as roundabouts, to the rest of the world.

But roundabouts are actually safer and more efficient than traditional intersections, so it’s no surprise the U.S. is (finally) coming around to them. A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that fatal crashes decreased by 89% at intersections where stop signs and traffic signals were replaced by roundabouts, and a 2014 study in Minnesota saw similar results. “The most deadly type of crash is the right-angle crash,” explains Derek Leuer, a traffic safety engineer at the Minnesota Department of Transportation. “At roundabouts, it is nearly impossible for a right-angle crash to occur.”

If your city or town is going in circles, but you haven’t seen a roundabout since your driver’s ed handbook, here’s a refresher on how to mind your manners while making your way around.

GEICO Mobile - #1 rated insurance app

Recognize The Roundabout

These tips apply to modern roundabouts, which are different from traffic circles (also known as rotaries) and traffic calming circles. Traffic circles have a very large center island and are entered in a straight line; traffic calming circles have a small center island and are mostly used instead of four-way stops to slow traffic in residential neighborhoods. Roundabouts are medium-sized, entered on a gentle curve and can be used at a variety of intersections.

Know When To Yield

When entering a roundabout, yield to traffic already in the circle and merge when it is safe. When exiting, remember to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks (it’s not just the polite thing to do, it’s the law).

Go Slow But Don’t Stop

Part of what makes roundabouts safer and more efficient is that they’re designed to be navigated at a slow, steady pace, so don’t stop once you’ve entered the roundabout. If you miss your exit, simply circle around again. If you see or hear an emergency vehicle approaching, proceed to your exit and then pull over to let it pass.

Pick A Lane And Stay There

“The general practice is to stay in your lane once you enter the roundabout,” says Leuer. Single-lane roundabouts make it easy, with only one lane choice. For multi-lane roundabouts, a sign before the intersection should tell you where you want to be. Usually, drivers turning left should get in the left lane, those headed right should get in the right lane, and drivers going straight can do so from either lane, Leuer adds.

Stay Off The Center Island

Large vehicles like semi trucks and buses may need a little more room to turn, so many modern roundabouts are designed with a raised section of concrete around the center island known as a truck apron. If you’re driving a regular vehicle, you probably don’t need to use the apron to get your back wheels around the bend, so leave it free for those who do.

Give It Time

Even if you find the roundabout strange at first or miss having a moment to fiddle with the radio at red lights, give the new intersection a chance. “Minnesota may have crossed a tipping point with roundabouts,” reports Leuer. “We are seeing more requests for roundabouts and citizens even asking why a roundabout isn’t being considered. They are becoming increasingly popular due to their safety, efficiency and economic benefits.”

Before you hit the road, make sure you’re covered for the unexpected by adding Emergency Roadside Service to your GEICO car insurance policy, available at your fingertips through the GEICO Mobile app.

Read more: Planning a trip abroad? Here’s how to prepare to navigate foreign roads.

Get GEICO Auto insurance.

    Leave a comment

  1. Bruce Day says,

    Here in New Jersey our Department of Transportation has spent the last 50 or so years abolishing and doing away with “round-a -bouts or traffic circles. now your telling all that there is a reversing trend back to these nighmares………….

  2. jack says,

    Very enlightening video. Just learned all the rules of navigating a video. I did not recognize the concept of going around the roundabout until it was safe to leave the lane.

    In a two lane roundabout why would you ever enter the center lane?

    • Traffic circles says,

      You are supposed to use the inside (left) lane if you want to turn left, because you’ll be going so far around. You can use it to go straight, too. People turning left but riding in the right lane had better yield well to everyone turning before them from the inside lane!

  3. Kawika Gischer says,

    Thank you very much! Now, if only we could get Transportation Departments to use these in lieu of traffic lights!

  4. Cary says,

    How can we teach people these simple basic things. Many people interpret roundabouts to be scary, but they are safe if you follow the rules like not stopping unless necessary.

  5. Dwight Winegar says,

    I’ve got some problems with this article about Roundabout or Traffic Circle Safety. What happens if there is a PEDESTRIAN cross walk on at least one side if not more than one side of the traffic circle. No one is supposed to stop in the Traffic Circle, but usually vehicles are to yield to pedestrians. So is the pedestrian then supposed to WAIT and yield to all vehicles until there are no vehicles in the roundabout? That would be rather difficult – otherwise vehicles will be back up into the circle creating an accident hazard. Also nothing was mentioned about “signaling intention”. In our town we have YIELD signs at ever roadway leading into the roundabout but often people drive through from the the more primary roadways. Without signaling intention with a one lane roundabout no one ever knows what the driver from the left oncoming is going to do. This has also resulted in accidents when drivers have NOT yielded to the vehicle in the roundabout.

    • courtney squire says,

      The universal rule of driving is –“avoid an accident at ALL cost ” If you have to stop to avoid an accident then do so IRRESPECTIVE if it is a” round a bout”, traffic light on green, red amber or even if a COP tells you to drive.
      You MUST avoid an accident at all cost even if you have to run off the road.
      Lives come first .

  6. Susan Lynch says,

    My dad’s first lesson to me was “ you can be dead right” . Which meant the right of way, the green light, someone waving you in doesn’t mean you can let your guard down..ever. I’ve been driving for over 55 years. I was hit once from behind at a red light. I was hit at an intersection by someone running their red light (mine was green- but I hadn’t moved but a few feet. One speeding ticket in 1977 on the NYS thruway. I moving violation for not stopping long enough at a stop sign. My fathers advice was the best.

  7. Lisa Pegnato says,

    We have these in New England and they are called “rotaries”. Not roundabouts. That is British. I question how safe they could be with folks bad driving habits. You actually need to think about what you are doing.

  8. Michael eric says,

    This is valuable information! just got my new job as a driver at Home Improvement Columbus

Looking to save? Bundle your auto & property. Start Quote Get A Free Auto + Property Quote