Traffic rules should be followed out of habit, and not compulsion. While we are aware of most of the basic traffic rules, there are a few others which not all of us are too well-versed with. One such confusing traffic manoeuvre is tackling a roundabout. Your driving or riding instructor may have touched upon the topic when he was showing you the ropes, but by now you have probably forgotten how to work your way through it in a technically correct method. It is, therefore, not uncommon for a rider or driver to get all jumbled up about the right approach to this circle of confusion. In this article, we are going to give you a complete low-down on how to tackle that often bothersome circle that branches out into multiple exits.
Okay, so before we begin, let's get some basics defined. A roundabout is a circular turn that branches out into multiple exits at a T-junction, or at a crossroads. It is commonly identified by a large circular structure or a painted circle in the middle of multiple exits. Now, to number these exits, a common rule of thumb is that the one to your immediate left is the first exit and then the second, third, fourth, and so on in a clockwise direction, in a right-hand drive country like India that is. For a left-hand drive country, these numbered exits would be on your right, and you would travel in a counter clockwise direction. There can be more than four exits as well, but that's quite uncommon.
Unlike crossroads, roundabouts generally do not have traffic signals. The basic design and function of a roundabout is to keep the traffic flowing smoothly and safely without controlling the vehicles through light signals. It is therefore important to be extra careful when taking an entry and exit using a roundabout. Another aspect to keep in mind is signals, and this time, we are not talking about the traffic lights. By signals, we mean the turn signals on your vehicle. They play a vital role in letting other riders and drivers know which way you are going to turn. It is extremely important that you use the turn signals properly when tackling a roundabout.
Right of way
The right of way defines which vehicle has the first right to pass. When you arrive at a roundabout and see a vehicle approaching from your right, that vehicle has the 'right of way'.
You should give way to this vehicle, which means you should slow down, stop or keep to the left to let this vehicle pass. Similarly, you will have the 'right of way' once you have safely entered the roundabout and vehicles on your left should ideally stop for you, or give way to you by keeping to the left or by slowing down. Always remember though, that despite having the right of way, you have to be polite and considerate to the other road users.
With all those basics out of the way, let us now understand the right method to navigate your way around a roundabout.
Taking the first exit (going left)
The first exit, as explained earlier, is the one to your immediate left. Now, if there is a slip road, or a slip lane available, it is easier, as you do not need to enter the roundabout. You can simply turn on your left indicator and move into the slip lane, and come out onto the road on the left. However, as the slip lane emerges onto the main road, do note that the vehicles approaching from behind you have the right of way. You should look to your right, slow down, keep left and allow those vehicles to pass. This will eliminate any chances of the approaching vehicles colliding with you from behind. If there is no slip lane, keep your vehicle in the left lane before approaching the roundabout and use the turn signal to indicate that you will be turning left. Look to your right and ensure there are no vehicles approaching on the roundabout. If there are any, let them pass first. As you enter the roundabout, turn left, stay in the left lane, and cautiously make the first left turn. Taking the first exit on a roundabout is the simplest. However, it gets a little more complicated starting from the second exit.
Taking the second exit (going straight)
On a four-way roundabout, the second exit will generally mean that you want to go straight. However, if there are more than four exits, the second exit would probably not be going straight. For the sake of this example, though, and given the fact that most roundabouts in India are four-ways, we will explain how to take the second exit where it means you're going straight. First, look to your right and ensure there is no vehicle approaching. Then enter the roundabout without making any turn signals. As soon as you move across the first exit, i.e. the one to your immediate left, turn on the left indicator and move on straight. This will indicate the vehicles approaching the roundabout from the left that you will be going straight. On a two-laned road, you may enter the roundabout from the lane you are already in. Stay in your designated lane and signal left once you go past the first exit. Follow the lane you are in, and make a clean exit, always being aware of the vehicles behind or next to you.
Taking the third exit (right turn)
Generally speaking, the third exit on a roundabout will be the right turn on the junction. Here, the use of turn signals will play a very important role and should be timed perfectly. Before entering the roundabout, ensure that there is no vehicle approaching from your right. Once you enter the roundabout, stay in the inner lane and indicate a right turn. Once you pass the second exit, switch the turn indicator to the left and enter the third exit from the left lane. Always keep an eye on the rear-view mirrors, especially for the vehicles behind you approaching the left lane faster than you.
Taking the fourth exit (U-turn)
When you take the fourth exit or make a U-turn, you are actually making a 360 degree turn around the roundabout. One might argue that a direct U-turn can be made, however, it is very dangerous as there can be a collision with the vehicles approaching from the right. So, should you make a direct U-turn if there is no vehicle approaching? Absolutely not, as it is a traffic offence and you could get yourself a challan and attract fines. Worse, you might even end up in a road accident. In order to make a U-turn around a roundabout, keep your vehicle in the right lane and check for vehicles approaching from the right. Once clear, indicate a right turn and enter the roundabout in the innermost (right) lane. Once you have passed the third exit, change the turn indicator to the left and exit the roundabout in the left lane.
Now, while all of these guidelines may seem quite straightforward, in practice, sometimes they might not turn out to be as easy as they sound. This is especially true if you are tackling a multi lane, busy roundabout with two, three, or more lanes. While the general guidelines mentioned above are helpful on such complicated roundabouts, one also needs to use discretion, look for road signs and be extra careful while changing lanes. Here we have some additional guidelines to make it easier for you while dealing with multi lane roundabouts.
Good judgement is a key while entering a roundabout. While it is advisable to stop and give way to the vehicles already on the roundabout, it isn't always possible on the busier circles. The rule of thumb here is, you should enter only if you can do so without making the vehicle already on the roundabout brake or slow down. As mentioned earlier, good judgement and experience helps here. However, for reference, if a car on the roundabout is two or more exits away, it is considered safe to enter the roundabout. This distance can be less, based on the size of the roundabout and the speed and position of the approaching car, but two exits away should generally be safe enough for you to enter.
Another important thing that can be confusing is to decipher the intent of the approaching vehicle's driver. In a world where everyone is a well-trained, disciplined rider / driver, it should be easy, as one is supposed to use the left turn indicator only as the exit turn approaches. Such an ideal scenario, however, doesn't always exist. The speed and position of a vehicle around the roundabout is often a good indicator of the driver's intent. Riders / drivers often tend to go steadily and carefully when they intend to stay in, and increase their vehicle speed as they exit. Also, a vehicle is expected to stay close to the inner lane when the exit is away, while it will approach the outer lane as it intends to exit the roundabout. These observations can help you position yourself safely on a roundabout. However, if you aren't experienced enough, or unsure, the best way is to stop and let the vehicles pass before entering.
Another good rule of thumb to follow, unless otherwise indicated by way of road signs, is to use the left lane up to the 2nd exit, or 180 degrees. In the case of a typical, four-way roundabout, built over a crossroads, use the right, or inner lane to get into the roundabout, and move out towards the left for the third exit, or 270 degrees onwards.
If you are entering a roundabout parallelly with other road users, keep your lane, and don't cut your fellow road users, as it might catch them unawares and lead to an accident.
While all of the guidelines mentioned above are useful, always be on the lookout for road and lane signs while taking a roundabout, and preferably follow these signs over every other guideline.
Always remember that it's OK to keep the inner lane and go around the roundabout one more time rather than swerving dangerously or making an abrupt lane change.
Also, owing to an increase in traffic over time, some roundabouts which didn't have traffic lights earlier, now have them. You need to traverse these roundabouts just the way you would if they didn't have these lights, except for ensuring that you stop at the traffic signals when they are red.
So, this was a simplified guide to using roundabouts safely. Next time you come across one, ensure you follow these instructions and you'll see that negotiating a roundabout in a technically correct way is not as difficult as it looks. Also, if you think your friends and family can go around these confusing circles more safely with this knowledge, do not forget to share this article with them. Ride safe!