The city of Atlanta (Motto: “Home of the airport where you changed planes last Christmas”) has installed a roundabout at a rather busy intersection near my house. This is highly entertaining if you’re watching from a safe distance, such as a nearby restaurant patio, or possibly South Carolina. But actually driving in this roundabout is the closest most Atlantans come every day to serious injury, or at least a rather large fender dent.
We all know it’s true: Americans aren’t fond of roundabouts. In fact, a new survey says 93 percent of Americans would rather stub their toe on furniture in the middle of the night when trying to locate the bathroom than drive through a roundabout. Admittedly, the facts of this survey are highly disputed, primarily because I just made it up. But there’s no arguing that we’d rather have a traditional intersection, which is more dangerous, but less confusing. For those of you thinking that roundabouts aren’t that confusing, just remember: this is the country that bought a million PT Cruisers.
Fortunately, I’ve prepared a few tips on how to successfully negotiate a roundabout. I recommend printing this out and storing it in your car. That way, when a roundabout approaches, you can take your eyes off the road and frantically search for it as you drive through, thereby becoming the best driver in the roundabout.
Tip #1: Yield to traffic inside roundabout. This should go without saying, which is why I’ve decided to mention it. When you’re approaching a roundabout, you must yield to cars currently inside it. Note to Scion tC drivers: “yield” does not mean “downshift and floor it.”
In reality, most drivers don’t have a problem with this. Usually, people are more than willing to yield to drivers inside the roundabout, and drivers near the roundabout, and schoolchildren at recess several blocks from the roundabout. They do this as they stare into the sky, hoping a traffic light will suddenly appear and tell them to proceed. Which leads us to…
Tip #2: Be assertive. Whenever I approach the Scary New Atlanta Roundabout, I always seem to be stuck behind a Volvo 240DL. This means two things: one is that we will sit at the roundabout entrance for the next nine minutes in case someone from two counties over should consider driving through later in the afternoon. And two: as we wait, I will be staring at an NPR bumper sticker.
Yes, it’s true that you have to yield to traffic in the roundabout. But you also have to push your way in if there’s an opening, like when you’re leaving Dodger Stadium with everyone else in the middle of the seventh. And for God’s sake, when you get inside…
Tip #3: Don’t yield to traffic outside the roundabout. Once our NPR-loving friend in the 240DL gets into the roundabout, the real fun begins. As he approaches each entrance, he sees a waiting car and thinks: That used to be me! So he stops to let the other driver go, disrupting the flow of traffic. The sole exception is if the other driver is in a Scion tC, in which case he’s already forced his way into the roundabout and may be rolled over on the other side with techno music blaring.
Really, folks: once you’re in the roundabout, continue until your destination. And when you get there…
Tip #4: Signal your way out. Most drivers believe there’s no roundabout turn signal protocol. Actually, that isn’t strictly true: many drivers put their left turn signals on as they go through the roundabout since they are, technically, moving left. This is approximately as helpful as a NASCAR driver putting on his left turn signal for an entire race.
In actuality, you should use your right turn signal before leaving a roundabout, thereby giving waiting drivers the opportunity to enter. Otherwise they’re stuck making assumptions about when you might leave. And in the world of roundabouts…
Tip #5: Don’t assume. Assumptions lead to 86 percent of all roundabout collisions, according to the same company who did that poll about toe-stubbing. The main roundabout assumption is that a driver will leave before he’s good and ready.
Just a refresher: when I’m in a roundabout, it is my God-given right to exit wherever I want. In fact, I can drive around in circles for weeks, challenging anyone to enter at their own risk, sort of like a foe in an early Super Mario game. At least, that’s how most drivers think, displaying the same level of entitlement that a 13-year-old girl might get from having an iPhone.
Feel free to share other roundabout tips. Surely, there are a few I don’t know. After all, I’m new at this whole roundabout thing – and most of my experience comes from following a Volvo 240DL.
Doug DeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.