Traffic circles (or roundabouts)

Driving in Europe continues to be something that generates a lot of email, so on to another popular driving topic: traffic circles — or, roundabouts as they’re known in the UK. Incredibly popular in Europe, you don’t see these too often in the US. When you do, they appear to generate a lot of confusion amongst drivers.

Early traffic circle

Early traffic circle — Stonehenge, England

The “golden rule” of traffic circles is pretty simple: traffic entering must yield to anything already in the circle. As you approach, take a look to see if there’s anything coming — if there is, slow down or stop. You don’t need to stop if there’s no traffic in the circle. You do need to stop if entering would cause traffic in the circle to slow down or stop to avoid you!

What to do if you miss your exit: keep going! You can go around the circle again until you find the exit you want, though going around more than twice is going to make other drivers think you don’t know what you’re doing.

Advanced traffic circles

Traffic circles in countries where cars drive on the right (like the US) go counter-clockwise. In the UK and other countries where cars drive on the left, they go clockwise. This is really confusing at first. If it’s any consolation, think how equally confusing it is to British drivers the first time they drive on the right and come to a traffic circle.

In and around major cities, you can find traffic circles with 2 or more lanes. The general rule here is that you want to end up in the outside lane when your exit comes around. Thus if you are taking an exit to the left of the circle, you’d take the left-hand lane (the lane closest to the center) upon entering the traffic circle, and gradually move to the outside so you can take the exit when it comes around.

The Arc de Triomphe traffic circle, Paris

There are no rules — just get on when you can, don’t stop and don’t miss your exit. In all seriousness — and speaking who has taken their own car around this particular circle more than once and lived to tell the tale — the same rules apply. It just doesn’t look like it. There is an old French traffic rule which was called “prioritare a droite”, which means “priority to the right” — i.e. you had to stop for anything coming from the right. This rule was abandoned years ago because it would mean traffic on a major road had to stop abruptly for any old car, bike or tractor that pulls out from a side road — leading to major wrecks. However, you can still see the vestiges of it in action in the Arc de Triomphe as the traffic in the circle comes to a screeching halt to allow other traffic into the circle from the right. Very strange.