Recently, drivers in North America have been challenged with a relatively uncommon traffic pattern; a roundabout, traffic circle or traffic-calming circle. And they aren’t the same thing. If a driving instructor only prepares you for the road test, you won’t have a good understanding of the difference between the three circles and how to approach them. Roundabouts, traffic circles and traffic calming circles are becoming more common in the Lower Mainland as safer, more cost efficient option that improves the flow of traffic.
WHAT IS A TRAFFIC-CALMING CIRCLE?
A traffic-calming circle is essentially an intersection with a flowerpot in the middle. These circles are created in order to slow traffic in a residential area, and it works. The structure of the intersection does not changed. Signalling is still the same: if you want to go right signal right; if you want to go left signal left, and if you want to go straight, don’t use a signal. Essentially the intersection has not changed but only has a flowerpot in the centre to slow traffic.
WHAT IS A TRAFFIC CIRCLE?
A traffic circle is where the circle is a road itself. You are permitted to drive continuously for hours in the circle. And though you won’t really get anywhere, you are permitted to drive in the circle for a long as you want. When I was driving in England recently, my cousin suggested driving continuously in the circle until I could figure out which exit to take.
The motor vehicle act in B.C. defines an intersection as anywhere where two roads meet. A traffic circle can have many exits, which by definition could be seen as separate intersections. You are only able to make a right turn out of a traffic circle, so a right signal is all that is required. Traffic in the circle has the right of way because they are on a road, therefore, you must yield to the traffic in the circle.
I personally signal to the left while I am in the traffic circle as this communicates to those drivers who are approaching the traffic circle that my intention is to stay in the circle, causing them to yield to traffic within the circle. This is not necessary, but helps communicate my intention.
WHAT IS A ROUNDABOUT?
A roundabout is a multiple-lane traffic circle with rules very similar to the traffic circle. In the Lower Mainland, these are usually required because of heavier traffic. The key to handling a roundabout is to know where you are going before you get to the traffic circle. For example, if you approach a roundabout in the left lane but actually need to exit to the right while in the roundabout, you won’t be able to take your exit. You would need to approach the roundabout already in the right-hand lane in preparation for exiting.
The Government of BC’s website has an excellent description of how a driver would deal with an emergency vehicle when in a roundabout. Click here to view.