Editorial: The rules of the circle

Roundabouts are a lot like politics: ask 10 people about them and you’ll get 10 different opinions. But they’re here to stay, for better or worse.

Last year, the Department of Transportation disclosed many intersections that had been converted into roundabouts did indeed see a spike in crashes, though it was also argued these lower-speed collisions prove to be safer for motorists.

Now, in the Town of Bethlehem, state agencies are furthering a study that aims to make roundabouts (or “traffic circles,” or “motor doughnuts,” or whatever you prefer) safer through better lighting and vegetation. We feel these increasingly prevalent features could be made considerably safer if drivers were better informed about how to drive them, and then followed those rules.

Most of the roundabouts in the Capital District are two-lane affairs, though there are a lot of one-lane approaches, as well. Planners tend to avoid three-lane roundabouts because they prove to resemble a three-ring circus.

So what’s a responsible driver to do? Well, the most basic rule of roundabouts is entering traffic must yield to traffic already in the circle. For motorists, every entrance effectively operates as a yield sign, and cars must also yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk or bicyclists using the roundabout either in the crosswalk or using a lane.

Once you have the sufficient space and time to enter the roundabout, you can hop into your lane and follow it to your exit. This is where things get tricky — but not if everyone follows the rules.

First of all, you’re supposed to use your right directional signal to tell other motorists when you’ll be exiting the circle. Do this as soon as you pass the exit before your intended egress. Looking at the anecdotal evidence, this is a rule that few drivers heed but could probably avert many accidents.

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