Navigating roundabouts 101

Richard Springer, formerly of Mill Creek, still subscribes to The Daily Herald from Chelan and keeps up on Street Smarts. (Clearly, he is a model citizen, replete with erudition and wit.)

Springer wondered if it might be time for a primer on navigating roundabouts, given their continued proliferation on roadways throughout the state.

In Snohomish County, most communities now have some kind of traffic circle or roundabout. And more roundabouts are planned just about everywhere you look. Further on in this column, you can read about a pair of them planned for Highway 20. Then there’s Highway 9, Highway 530, 36th Avenue W, Soper Hill Road, Filbert Road… (You know what? I’m just going to stop there.)

“I’ve noticed people unsure how to use them properly and efficiently,” Springer wrote. “I was wondering if there is a proper etiquette for using your signals that would make it easier for the other drivers to know each car’s intentions?”

It’s been a few years since our last refresher on navigating roundabouts. So let’s do it again. (And, yes, turn signals are part of it.)

We turn to the Washington State Department of Transportation’s primer, which is available at (There’s also a brochure. And a five-part video series. They are very thorough.)

Key things to remember:

– Yield to drivers in the roundabout

– If nobody’s there, no stop is required

– Don’t change lanes once in the roundabout

– Do not stop in the roundabout

– Use your turn signal just before you exit

I would place extra emphasis on that last one. A quick flick of the blinker to indicate your intentions is easy enough. But because of the short distance between exits in a roundabout, wait until you’re close, rather than turning it on right as you enter which just causes confusion. (On a related note, you don’t need to use your blinker when entering a roundabout. There’s only one direction you can go.)

In multi-lane roundabouts:

– Check the signs to see what lane you need to reach the road you want

– Yield to both lanes of traffic already in the roundabout

Don’t forget to watch for pedestrians. Marked crosswalks typically come before the roundabout, giving drivers more time to react.

And avoid driving next to oversize vehicles, which often need to use the whole roundabout — including the center island — to navigate the tight curve.

If you are a cyclist, you will need to choose whether to act as a vehicle and follow the same rules of the road, or to walk your bicycle through a crosswalk as a pedestrian.

If an emergency vehicle approaches with lights flashing, exit the roundabout and then pull to the right.

Send your questions or topics for Street Smarts to

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