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How to Navigate a Roundabout? Very Carefully.

Va roundabout.jpg
Cars looked a bit bigger to me in the real roundabout on Route 50 in Loudoun County. (VDOT)

I'm kind of a freak about using turn signals -- I use them when I'm driving up the levels of a parking garage -- but I was willing to cut drivers some slack in the new roundabout on Route 50 in Loudoun County, because the circle is so tight. But this traveler is having none of it.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
While you are correct in your reply in Sunday's column to Mr. Drummond regarding roundabouts, saying that they are going to "take some getting used to," I can't agree that the use of turn signals to indicate intention is so difficult that you would attempt to excuse a driver's failure to do so.

Your excusing the non-use of signals in this case because the circle is so small that the driver is likely to have two hands on the wheel throughout the entire experience is simply silly. Are most drivers so incompetent that they are unable to use the fingers of the left hand to operate the signal stalk, especially since the left hand should be positioned at approximately "9-o'clock" anyway? Anyone who is that lacking in driving skill should be in the back seat while someone more talented operates the vehicle.

Perhaps if they put their phone down long enough to navigate the circle, they would have a free hand to operate the turn signal? And with full time and attention on driving, they might not have to mentally "reboot" in the midst of the situation and come to a full stop at the yield sign, or worse, in the circle itself.

I enjoy your column and your advice is generally good, but I think in this case you missed the mark.
John White

Here's the advice offered by the Virginia Department of Transportation on using roundabouts:
* Slow down and prepare to yield as you approach the roundabout.
* On the approach, you must be in the right lane (if it is a dual lane roundabout).
* You must yield to the traffic already in the roundabout.
* Stay to the right as you approach your turn.
* Place your right turn signal on until you have exited the roundabout.

Road Essentials:  Incident Map  |  Traffic Cams   |   Key Routes

By Robert Thomson  |  April 20, 2009; 1:50 PM ET
Categories:  Construction , Driving  
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I would take issue slightly with the final bullet-point list in this item only because of point #2. You must be in the right lane only if you intend to use the first exit from the roundabout (i.e., make a right turn). If you're going to the second exit (i.e., going straight), you can use either lane, and if you're going to the third exit (i.e., turning left), you must use the left lane on approach.

Posted by: 1995hoo | April 20, 2009 5:10 PM | Report abuse

1995hoo brings up a good point but....its always best to read the signs. 1995hoo's advice only works if there are 2 lanes all the way around the roundabout. I've seen many roundabout designs where that is not the case (maybe the cross road is only 1 lane each way, so part of the roundabout is only 1 lane).

On some roundabouts with multiple lanes all the way around, the lanes are set up in a "spiral" configuration. At each exit point, the right lane becomes "exit only" and then a new lane forms on the left. So if you enter in the left lane intending to "turn left", after you pass the first exit, you find yourself in the right lane without having to ever switch lanes.

Posted by: thetan | April 21, 2009 12:18 AM | Report abuse

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