Getting Straight about Roundabouts

As the more devoted of our readers may recall, a comment thread on a recent post about roundabouts led to a perplexing question: Who has the right of way inside a two-lane roundabout?

It’s very clear who yields to whom in a normal roundabout — drivers entering the roundabout must always yield to drivers inside the roundabout. But what happens in those rare locations, such as the Lee Circle on Richmond’s Monument Ave., when there are two lanes of traffic around the circle? In particular, who has the right of way (this question will be obscure to non-Richmonders, but please bear with us) when a car in the left lane wants to exit onto Monument/West Franklin and a car in the right lane wants to continue in the circle to Allen?

Becky Dale took it upon herself to find out. Diligently, she worked her way through ranks of state and local officials who, shockingly, did not know the answer to this elementary question. But at last she identified a certain Sergeant John E. Bowman, of the Richmond Police, who seems to speak with authority. Bowman, she reports, pronounces as follows:

The car in the right-hand lane must yield to the car in the left lane because it would have to cross over the center divided line of the lanes in order to continue in the traffic circle. Because it is changing lanes, it must yield. If the lines were painted differently, if the center divided line went around in a circle too, there would be a different answer: the car in the left lane would be crossing the center divided line and would have to yield. The car changing lanes must yield to the car staying in its lane.

Got it? I think we can all be thankful that there are not more accidents at the Lee Monument.

As a final note, Becky adds for the general edification of the roundabout-phobes among you: “As you enter a roundabout, yield to any traffic in it. Once you’re in it, yield to traffic if you have to cross a lane divider. And keep your eyes open for drivers who don’t know what they’re supposed to do!”

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5 responses to “Getting Straight about Roundabouts”

  1. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Good answer. I’m only familiar with the situation where the dividing line goes around the circle. (In practice it is usually worn out or obscured anyway.) Having read your explanation I now recall situations where the dividing line enters and exits the circle as described.

    Sounds like an accident waiting to happen. Now, in addition to driving and watching the traffic (which you can’t see well in a roundabout because your mirrors are set wrong) now you have to alter your behavior based on how you discover the lines are painted during the few seconds you arein the roundabout.

  2. NOVA Scout Avatar
    NOVA Scout

    My problem at that circle (and the Stuart statue) is that the sculptures are so superb that I have to resist the urge to stop in traffic to admire them.

  3. MaxPower Avatar

    I just ate dinner sitting on the monument tonight. It is such a great spot in Richmond.

    The great thing about roundabouts (theoretically) is that they raise drivers alertness levels when entering the circle. Which is probably why there aren’t just a ton of accidents under R.E.L’s watchful gaze.

    But I did remark to my wife as we sat there tonight, that it was odd that the lines don’t continue around with the circle. It seems like it would make more sense that way.

  4. Jeremy Hinton Avatar
    Jeremy Hinton

    Ray Hyde said…

    which you can’t see well in a roundabout because your mirrors are set wrong

    Personal rant:

    On the occaisions i venture into the driver’s seat of other’s cars it always amazes me how people set their side view mirrors. What good does a side mirror do you if it shows you the side of your car and the same view your rear mirror presents? It seems most people (in my experience) adjust their mirrors to be in close to the car, so they almost double as secondary rear view mirrors. I much prefer them pushed far out to the sides, providing visibility of the blind spot cars drop into between your rear view and your peripheral vision while driving. In my own vehicle, with the mirrors properly adjusted, i can see a car the entire time as it comes up and passes me on either side, sliding from rear to side to peripheral vision wihout ever leaving view or having to turn my head. Try this test yourself next time you’re on the interstate. Perhaps i’m wrong, but i imagine many people will have major blindspots with their current mirror settings.

  5. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    You are right about the mirrors. As a former motorcycle rider, I’m a fanatic about my mirrors and using them. The number two cause of motorcycle accidents is getting run over from behind – number one is passinga against a yellow line.

    My wife is 4 foot 9, so mirrors and seats are never right. I’d like to catch the moron engineer who put the seat adjuster only on the right hand side. When she gets out of the car, it’s hard to reach the adjuster to move the seat enough to get in. When I look in the mirrors all I can see is the ground and the back seat.

    All I meant was that in a tight curve, the car behind isn’t quite where you expect it to be, and the angles are different from a normal intersection. Telecommuting is a lot better, all around.

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