Few drivers seem to know how to use the roundabout near me. What are the rules?

A new traffic sign advises commuters to avoid traffic inside a roundabout in Halifax.Paul Darrow/The Globe and Mail

A roundabout was installed on our very busy residential street a few years ago. It handles traffic from four directions. Nobody seems to know how to use it. Some drivers stop all the way and then there’s a whole “You go…no, you go” song and dance. Others don’t budge at all and seem to use the roundabout to gain momentum and go faster. In winter there were even tire tracks across the middle island. So what are the rules exactly? There are yield signs, but no one seems to know who to yield to. – Brent, St. Albert, Alta.

The rules for a roundabout are surprisingly simple – but many drivers are still confused, a driving expert said.

“The rules themselves are pretty simple,” said Ryan Lemont, driver education manager for the Alberta Motor Association (AMA). “The largest will give way to drivers already in the roundabout and any vehicles to your left.”

According to an Alberta government website on roundabouts and roundabouts, both are “circular intersections designed to improve traffic flow and safety.”

“There are some differences, but the principles are the same,” Lemont said. “Roundabouts are more for residential areas. They are smaller and intended for lower speeds.”

At a standard intersection with traffic lights or stop signs, traffic from all directions will proceed after stopping, yielding, or continuing straight depending on the signage. But in a roundabout or roundabout, traffic moves counterclockwise around a center island, according to the website.

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Unlike large roundabouts with speeds in excess of 50 kilometers per hour and traffic lights at each entry point, modern roundabouts should be designed to slow traffic, Lemont said.

Regardless of whether it is a roundabout or a roundabout, you should slow down before entering and give way to traffic, including cyclists, already at the roundabout. Because traffic is flowing counterclockwise, you’ll have to give way to traffic approaching from the left, he said.

Once at the roundabout, continue to the exit. You have the right of way over incoming vehicles. As you near your exit, use your right signal to let other drivers know you’re exiting, Lemont said. You shouldn’t stop on a roundabout unless you need to avoid an accident – or stop for a pedestrian.

The rules for roundabouts and roundabouts are similar across Canada. For example, in British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia, driver’s manuals state that you should avoid traffic at intersections – in other words, enter the roundabout when there is no traffic coming from the left.

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Once inside the roundabout, traffic in the outer right lane must give way to traffic in the inner left lane.handouts

It gets more confusing when there is more than one lane. For example, Alberta rules state that you should stay in the same lane all the way through the roundabout, rather than changing lanes while in it. So if you get in the right lane, you should get out in the right lane.

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That’s why it’s important to choose the right lane of where to go in advance, Lemont said.

“It is recommended that you take this inside with you [left] lane when passing more than one exit,” he said. “If you just take the first exit, you can take the outer right lane.”

Similarly, the Ontario Handbook says you should use the left lane when turning left or going straight – and the right lane when turning right or going straight.

“Do not enter a roundabout from the right-hand lane if you intend to turn left,” it says.

Traffic in both lanes should turn on the right signals when exiting at the next exit, Lemont said.

If you’re inside the circle in that right outer lane, you’ll have to yield to traffic in the left inner lane signaling right, he said.

This is because if you are passing an exit in the right lane around the roundabout, a vehicle in the left lane could cross your path to take the exit.

“This is where some of the confusion starts to manifest,” Lemont said. “You can take any exit in this outer right lane, but the restriction is that you must avoid vehicles on the roundabout on your left.”

Roundabouts and roundabouts can create confusion because drivers may not be used to them, he said. While roundabout rules are covered in written driving tests, road tests required for driver’s licenses need not include roundabouts or roundabouts as there may not be one to test you at. Roundabouts aren’t mandatory in road tests, but they can show up depending on where the instructor takes the driver, Lemont said.

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“I’d say that creates confusion,” Lemont said, adding that it’s a good idea to check your route ahead of time to see if you’ll come across any roundabouts so you’re not caught off guard. “They’re not that common. If you’re not exposed to them, knowing how to navigate them will be parked deep in your head and you’ll have to dig to get it out.”

Do you have a driving question? send it [email protected] and include “Driving Concerns” in your subject line. Emails without the correct subject line may not be answered. Canada is big so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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