How to Use a Roundabout

How to Use a Roundabout

Last Updated August 8, 2023 | Andrew Boyle

There’s one thing that continues to confuse drivers: The Roundabout.

Roundabouts are becoming more familiar on many U.S. roadways — there are about 5,000 roundabouts right now and that number is growing by the hundreds every year. With more roundabouts popping up all over the country, you’re bound to see one at some point. If you haven’t faced one before, the sight of a roundabout may be daunting. The good news is it’s actually pretty easy!

[click the infographic below]

Using a roundabout the correct way

Roundabout Stats

Ever wonder why there are so many roundabouts? It’s because they are safer than traffic intersections and their cousins, traffic circles. Compared to intersections, roundabouts have been proven to reduce:

  • Vehicle collisions by 37 percent
  • Injury collisions by 75 percent
  • Fatality collisions by 90 percent
  • Pedestrian collisions by 40 percent

In addition to improved safety, roundabouts have other benefits. They improve traffic flow and reduce delays by 20 percent, according to studies by Kansas State University. Additional studies by the researchers revealed a reduction in delays of 89 percent and reduction in vehicle stops of 56 percent.

If you spend a lot of time in the car, that’s a big deal. On top of that, roundabouts reduce emissions up to 68 percent, a critically important factor as the U.S. becomes more concerned with clean air. With roundabouts, fuel consumption is cut by 34 percent, saving over 24,000 gallons of gas per year per roundabout.

Given the benefits, you’ll likely be seeing more roundabouts in the future. Understanding how to approach and drive within roundabouts, then, is increasingly important.

Roundabouts and Traffic Circles: The Differences

It’s important to note that roundabouts and traffic circles (called rotaries in some parts of the U.S.) are not the same. In fact, they’re quite different.

Here are a few key distinguishing features of each:

  • Small
  • Slow speed
  • No stop signs/signals in circle
  • No lane changes
  • Very safe and effective
    Traffic Circles
  • Large
  • Faster speed
  • May have stop signs/signals in circle
  • Inside lane changes to outside lane to exit
  • Not as safe
  • Inefficient

Roundabouts are designed so your average speed of entering and exiting is quite low — 15 to 25 miles per hour — compared to traffic circles, where you enter and exit at 30 to 50 miles per hour.

The relatively lower speeds are one factor that makes roundabouts safer, along with the design. There are no lane changes in roundabouts, which reduces the chances of collision.

Roundabouts have no stop signs within the circle, either, while traffic circles may contain them. All that stopping and starting makes traffic circles less efficient.

Overall, roundabouts come out on top in just about every way. Now here’s how to actually use them.

Driving Through a Roundabout

As safe as they are, roundabouts can be tricky to navigate. They’re confusing on their own as far as figuring out where to look and where to exit, but there’s another aspect of roundabouts that can even more puzzling — there are multi-lane roundabouts and single-lane roundabouts.

It’s important to be familiar with how to use both so you know what to do when you run — or drive — into one:

    Single Lane Roundabout
  • Watch for the yellow “roundabout ahead” sign, then reduce your speed on approach.
  • Be on the lookout for pedestrians and bicyclists.
  • Look left, and if you see traffic in the roundabout, yield.
  • When you see a break in the traffic, you can safely enter the circle.
  • Drive around the roundabout until you get to your exit.
  • Use your turn signal, watch for other cars, and exit safely.
    Multi-Lane Roundabout
  • Watch for the yellow “roundabout ahead” sign and the white “lane choice” sign.
  • Be on the lookout for pedestrians and bicyclists.
  • Choose a lane before entering: Use the right lane to go right or straight. To go left, straight or make a U-turn, use the left lane.
  • Look left, and yield to traffic already in both lanes of the roundabout.
  • When you see a break in the traffic, you can safely enter.
  • Don’t make this common mistake — trying to go left from the right lane. Change lanes before safely exiting the roundabout.
This article was researched, written, edited, and reviewed following the steps outlined in our editorial process. Learn more about CJ's editorial standards and guidelines.