Roundabouts: Straight-Ahead Tips for Muddled Motorists

You’re on vacation, driving through an unfamiliar town. Everything’s going normally when, out of nowhere, you’re faced with a strange new traffic feature: the roundabout. What to do?  You know what roundabouts are, vaguely, but you’ve never taken one. Will you get stuck in it and circle endlessly, like they do in the movies? How to avoid a wreck? What should you do to avoid making your fellow motorists angry? Here’s a brief primer on the modern, American roundabout.

Circling Back into Popularity in the US

Maybe roundabouts have taken you by surprise lately. Where did all these odd little street features come from all of a sudden? No, you haven’t been magically whisked off to Europe. Roundabouts (sometimes called traffic circles) have been making a big comeback in the United States in the last few years.


And motorists seem to like them. Communities all around the country have implemented them lately. Every time they do, the story is the same. People grumble and complain about safety and fiscal waste and the stress of dealing with something so new. After a couple time through a roundabout, though, people are pleased. Traffic slows down. It gets rid of the irritating “who’s turn is it?” drama that comes with four-way stops. An easy transition.

Safety Stats

Roundabouts are safe and have many benefits to traffic. And to those who doubt the ‘bout, here are some fast facts:

According to the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHA), roundabouts make drastic decreases in accidents, traffic congestion, pollution, fuel use, and noise. Here’s the deal: when motorists use roundabouts, they slow down. When drivers go slowly, they drive carefully. And even if there is an accident, the slow speeds ensure that serious injuries are kept to a minimum. Compare that with the tradition traffic stop. Four way stop signs and traffic lights both force motorists to drive in opposite directions. Accidents are frequently head on.   

How to Use a Roundabout

Luckily, roundabouts are simple to use. And the most important thing to know is something all motorists are already familiar with: knowing how to use a yield sign properly. Basically, yield until the path in clear. Go right. Circle around until your direction comes up, then turn right again. That’s all there is to it most of the time.


There are two types of roundabout: single-lane and multi-lane.


  • Single-lane roundabouts are especially easy. Yield at the yield sign. Watch for pedestrians. Wait your turn. Keep right. Turn off when you’re ready.
  • Multi-lane roundabouts can be slightly more complex, but are really no big deal. Again: yield, watch for pedestrians, wait your turn (yield to BOTH lanes), take a right. Don’t change lanes while in the roundabout.
  • Other considerations include watching out for oversized vehicles (don’t drive next to them keeping aware of other motorists who are unfamiliar with feature and may become confused. Check your local Department of Transportation website for further instructions.