Traffic Circle vs. Roundabout: How to Drive in A Traffic Circle and How They Work

Claire Grulick
| November 8, 2023 | 3 Minute Read
top-down view of circles entering and exiting a traffic circle Cars enter and exit traffic circles from all sides in both lanes. Adobe Stock

A road feature often found in Europe many U.S. states have begun to utilize these traffic devices on secondary roadways. According to Lee Rodegerdts of Kittelson & Associates in 2020, there were 9,000 traffic circles nationwide. Wisconsin claims the title of most traffic circles or roundabouts.

Understanding how these traffic features work is crucial for safer and more efficient driving. In this article, we'll explore the ins and outs of traffic circles, helping you learn to navigate them confidently.

What is a Traffic Circle?

Traffic circles are circular roadways designed to manage traffic flow. They serve as alternatives to traditional intersections and come with their own set of rules and advantages. Unlike current intersections with perpendicular crossing lanes, traffic circles are characterized by a circular roadway where vehicles travel counterclockwise around a central island.

Benefits of Traffic Circles:

  • Improved Traffic Flow: Traffic circles reduce the need for frequent stops, ensuring a smoother and more continuous flow of vehicles.
  • Reduced Congestion and Idling: Reduced stopping and idling times result in less congestion and shorter travel times.
  • Lower Accident Rates: Studies show that traffic circles can lead to fewer accidents compared to traditional intersections.

Is a Traffic Circle Different from a Roundabout?

While both traffic circles and roundabouts involve circular movement counterclockwise around a center island, the similarities largely end there. Traffic circles can feature stop signs, stop signals or no signs at all. They can also be large, allow vehicles to operate at higher speeds and often require lane changes.

How Do Traffic Circles Work?

Entry and exit points are placed at four points around the intersection, allowing vehicles to smoothly drive in and out of the circle. The main goal of traffic circles is to facilitate continuous traffic flow, significantly reducing the need for stops and waiting. They are designed with safety in mind, incorporating features like clearly marked lanes and pedestrian crossings.

How to Drive in a Traffic Circle

As you approach a traffic circle, reduce your speed and comply with any posted signals. Enter the traffic circle by yielding to vehicles already inside the circle. Choose your entry lane ahead of time to minimize lane changes when exiting. Maintaining a consistent speed is key to keeping the traffic flow steady and avoiding disruptions. When it's time to exit, clearly signal your intention and yield to pedestrians at crosswalks. Be aware of vehicles approaching from your right to help maintain the order within the circle.

Who Has the Right of Way in a Traffic Circle?

The vehicle already inside the circle has the right of way. Drivers should yield to vehicles inside the circle.

Safety Tips for Traffic Circles

  • Yielding to Circulating Traffic: Always give way to vehicles already in the circle.
  • Keeping a Safe Following Distance: Maintain a safe distance to prevent accidents.
  • Being Aware of Pedestrian and Cyclist Presence: Watch out for pedestrians and cyclists in and around the circle.
  • Avoiding Distractions: Stay focused on the road to navigate the circle safely.

Remember, traffic circles are essentially one-way streets. Make right turns to enter and exit them and always yield to pedestrians when exiting in an outer right lane. Use your right turn signal to indicate your exit and enjoy the benefits of smoother, more efficient traffic flow.

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