Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Traffic Circles (Roundabouts)

I’m looking for clarification on the proper rules/etiquette on using those traffic interchanges called roundabouts, or traffic circles, depending on what part of the country you are in. Here in central Florida, near The Villages, there are a lot of these traffic circles, and I know they can be confusing to any driver who is not used to them. What I want to be sure of is this: If you are a driver in the outside lane of a circle, then you have the choice of either leaving the circle at the first turn-out OR continuing to another turn-out, right? But if you are in the inside lane of the circle, aren’t you supposed to signal and move to the outside lane before turning out? Seems to me that you’re not supposed to leave the circle from the inside lane, because if you do and cut across the path of a vehicle in the outside lane (which does not intend to turn out) then you’re failing to yield (and risking a collision). One day about a week or so ago, some ignoramus in the inside lane of a circle honked his horn at me (I was in the outside lane) because he wanted to turn out and exit from the inside lane. I honked back at him and displayed my middle finger. Anyway, I want the professional opinion from any of you with traffic circle experience, just who had the right-of-way and who failed to yield?

I too live in Florida, and I think two-lane traffic circles are collisions waiting to happen.

In the Jupiter, FL area, they have double white lines to indicate where it is not appropriate to move between lanes while in the roundabout, but people tend to ignore him.

Frankly, based on your description of the exchange between you and the other driver, it was a case of two impolite people crossing paths.

Anyway, I always take the outside lane unless I’m going through 3/4 of the circle (the equivalent of a left turn). If I’m using 3/4 of the circle, I still take the outside lane unless there is slower traffic in the right lane. In other words, it’s almost never a good idea to be in the inside lane, but if you find yourself in that inside lane, you might have to go around a couple times before you’re clear to exit the roundabout.

I’ve sampled only one traffic circle in SC and found it nuts. “Unencumbered by the thought process” I posit the following rules:

  1. After entering, move immediately to the left lane, unless exiting at the next exit.
  2. Never cross an exit in the right lane.
  3. When coming to your exit, move to the right lane just before exiting.
  4. During 1,2,and 3, pray.
I too live in Florida, and I think two-lane traffic circles are collisions waiting to happen.

New England is traffic circle king. We have many traffic circles that have become completely unmanageable. They were probably fine when there were only 5,000 cars a day going through them…But some now have 30,000 cars a day.

So to alleviate the traffic flow problem they added two lanes entering the circle. If you are entering the circle on the right…then you can proceed without stopping…but ONLY to the next exit off the circle. If you enter the circle in the left lane…then you MUST WAIT for vehicles in the circle. They actually did a nice job to the traffic circle in Portsmouth. The problem arises when people want to skirt the law to get around everyone…thus causing more problems and accidents.

While most areas of the country are removing traffic circles…New Hampshire is adding them. Pelham NH just added two new traffic circles (actually one is still under construction). Goffstown added 2 a few years ago. Keene - two new ones a few years ago also.

We have both rotaries and roundabouts in MA. Theory and practice often do not match. In theory, the inside lane must yield and merge with the outside lane of a roundabout if necessary. Insightful has the process right, especially the part about praying…

I should add that the two lane traffic circles I’ve seen in Florida have yield signs at every entrance, giving the people in the roundabout the right of way. Most of the collisions that happen are caused by people trying to exit the roundabout from the inside lane (crossing the double white lines) while someone entering the roundabout thinks he has a clear lane to enter at the outside.

Stuart, Florida has a roundabout the locals refer to as “confusion corner.” I’ve attached a picture of it. The craziest thing about this intersection is that if you enter from the south, and you want to go left, going out of your way to go around the circle means you don’t have to yield to anyone else, but if you want to make a left turn during rush hour where the red car is sitting in the northbound lane, you can wait a long time.

@TwinTurbo, you’re right that theory and practice often don’t match. On my current commute, I go through several one lane roundabouts, and I really like that I usually don’t have to wait for traffic. In that sense, they really reduce congestion. It’s when they get complicated that things get crazy.

I live in MA, which probably has the highest concentration of traffic circles. However, there is only rotary (as we call it in New England) that I often use that typically has people using both the inside and the outside simultaneously. This rotary is part of route 2, which is two lanes when it hits the rotary. Cars in the left lane on route 2 typically enter directly to the center of the rotary, and exit directly from the center back into the left lane on the other side. Otherwise it is very uncommon to find people side-by-side on the rotary unless someone is using it an an opportunity to pass a slower driver.

Note: this rotary, as well as most others, does not have any painted lines to distinguish between the “inner” and “outer” lanes.

This rotary is part of route 2, which is two lanes when it hits the rotary.

The route 2 Rotary by the Prison is by far one of the WORSE rotary’s in the nation. I use to work in Concord and had to traverse that rotary every day. I’ll bet for the 2 years I worked in Concord I saw 50+ accidents. During rush hour it’s a nightmare. I can’t tell you how many times I had to slam on my brakes because some jerk entered the traffic circle at 40 without even looking. Again - I wished I had my 66 Caddy then…because with that beast - I wouldn’t care if I hit the jerk. Probably wouldn’t eve notice more of the time.

A tragic circle as I can make it out, is a way to dealing with intersections of more then four accesses on the cheap. Theoretically they should be traffic sensitive and not built in places where too much traffic exist. Over passes and highway ramps are much too expensive though the proper way to handle these these situations with a lot of traffic.

The only way to deal with them is with experience. Once you know exactly where you are going and when, it gradually becomes easier…not easy. If you hit one for the first time, they are a real PITA. The second time, they are only scary until eventually with lots of experience you hit the stage of fear and trepidation.
The most traffic circle friendly vehicle you can have is a three quarter ton plow truck with V plow.

Theoretically they should be traffic sensitive and not built in places where too much traffic exist.

That’s the problem with them. They start out in areas that don’t see a lot of traffic. And then traffic starts building slowly over the years…and to the point that to change it would cause havoc to thousands and thousands of commuters every day…or it’s not even feasible.

Traffic circles, in theory are the most efficient intersection. If clear, you don’t need to stop and wait for cars or a traffic light. In practice the result is quite different. It is the dynamic equivalent of a 4 way stop. In my experience, over half of driver don’t know what to do at a 4 way stop. And the rest don’t know what to do at a traffic circle. You are in the right, the inner lane should not cut across you. It is courtesy to move to the inner lane to cross or turn left (3 street rotation) but I don’t think it is a law. Being right doesn’t mean they won’t hit you.

Accept that roundabouts confuse the heck out of drivers. So how many cars have had to be towed off the center of the circle? For a few laughs, take an afternoon picnic lunch where you can observe from a safe spot and just watch confused for a while. It might make you more capable of avoiding an accident.

Roundabouts, rotaries, traffic circles… traffic engineers seem to love them (they’re proliferating like rabbits) and drivers seem to hate them, myself included. I think this fad will run its course and they’ll all be removed, just as the triangular “islands” in “T” intersections seem to have done.

One thing I did when I was teaching my daughter to drive was spent time specifically focused on teaching her how to use traffic circles safely… and it ain’t easy. They seem designed to create accidents. I don’t know if driving schools have this in their program plan, but if they don’t they should.

By the way, the formal definitions of these three things varies, but in the real world the terms are used interchangeably, at least where I live.

That’s why, “theoretically” the traffic circles I travel to visit the kids in NH and Mass would work “pretty well” any time some years ago now have to be approached cautiously during low traffic hours. Luckily,
in one direction, the on/off are very close. Coming in the other direction, it’s most of the way around but we know when to start “barging” into the exit lane to make it. If not, don’t be afraid to just bail back to the left lane for another trip around. It’s not an affront to one’s manhood to do this as most AHs who force there way when traffic won’t allow seem to think. There is nothing like experience and a good plan in advance. Oh, shut the "freak’n " GPS off…and have no distractions.

One has a 35 mph exit just 200 yards from an 55 mph entrance with a well traveled on ramp between them you have to drive through. No way you can be timid. It just “teaches” Mass drivers to be A holes. You have to be one to survive that and ones like it.

Here in East Central Indiana we are beginning to see roundabouts. It has eliminated traffic back-ups at one busy intersection in my neighborhood.

There was a traffic circle in Chelmsford MA at Rt-4 and Rt-3. The traffic circle was over Rt3. Besides the on and off ramps from the North and South bound lanes of Rt-3…there were at least 3 other roads that entered this traffic circle.

They changed the circle to be a square with 4 traffic lights.

The accident rate went from over 300 accidents a year to less then 10.

I travel up I-93 North a lot. The traffic circle just north or River rd is another DANGEROUS one. Many many times traffic on I-93 is backed up for miles because of an accident in that circle.

While they do work…they are still dangerous. And I avoid them if at all possible.

Many people confuse older styles of circular intersections with modern roundabouts. East coast rotaries, large multi-lane traffic circles (Arc D’Triomphe), and neighborhood traffic circles are not modern roundabouts. If you want to see the difference between a traffic circle, a rotary (UK roundabout) and a modern roundabout (UK continental roundabout), go to to see pictures. And here’s another site that shows the difference between an older rotary and a modern roundabout:
The FHWA ( has a video about modern roundabouts that is mostly accurate ( ).
Modern roundabouts are the safest form of intersection in the world. Visit for modern roundabout FAQs and safety facts. Modern roundabouts, and the pedestrian refuge islands approaching them, are two of nine proven safety measures identified by the FHWA,

As to the specific question, it depends. Most modern roundabouts, just like other multi-lane intersections, will have lane use signs posted in advance of the intersection to inform motorists which lane entering can go which direction exiting. The right lane may be a right only lane, a right+thru lane, or a right+thru+left lane. It all depends on the expected traffic volume and which way it is heading.

Then you add to ‘‘tourist’’ or ‘‘visitor’’ to the strangeness of a circle and you turn a circLE into a circUS.
We don’t have any of those around here so imagine my amzement driving in Portland Oregon a few years back into one of those multi-angle many road roundabouts ! Yikes ! even WITH signs there is suddenly too many signs to keep up with , too much other traffic pressure, and it’s just a dangerous mess if you havent been in that intersection at least six times to get used to it.
six times.
That’s how many times I think I went round and round just to stay safely out of their way while reading the urban forest of signs and figuring it all out.

My doaughter ilived in Australia for a bit, they love them because they seldom have to stop. So I am on the try to love them learning curve. Sure when they were new there were a few tiretracks going straight across the middle, I am learning, others also. In our county they had a cryptic sign with arrows and a white dot,after a newspaper investigation the white dot represents the roundabout. I think in the long run it will work out, but I committed a faux paus last weekend.

Seems the center lane for the exit was for speedhounds, while there was a get up to speed lane turning right before you enter the real lane, misjudged merge and left lane exit right and got a honk, dirty look and tailgater. Definitely the 15mph posted was half the speed obtained and misjudged by me. I made the evil assumption if you are on the inner lane on a roundabout, you are not planning to get off at the first available option.

Portland only has two modern roundabouts, and both are on the outside edges of the city. Coe Circle, at Chavez and Glisan, is a stop controlled traffic circle. Ladd Circle is the same. Neither are modern roundabouts.

Drifter is correct, you are supposed to signal, then safely move to the outside lane of the circle well ahead of where you want to leave it. At least that is how they did it in New Zealand.

New Zealand traffic circles are considerably easier to navigate than those I’ve experienced here in the USA, mostly because they have a much larger diameter. NZ’s traffic circles are humongous by comparison, so there’s more room to maneuver.