Roundabouts are becoming more common throughout the United States, replacing the traditional intersection. They move traffic one-way in a counterclockwise direction, at slower speeds, and create fewer conflict points for potential incidents. Although some motorists appear perplexed when approaching a roundabout, many of the same general rules regarding intersections apply.
When approaching a roundabout, drivers should slow their speed, pay attention to signs and lane markings, and then select the appropriate lane for the direction they wish to travel. Traffic should yield to pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as traffic on the left that is already in the roundabout. Drivers should only enter when there is a safe gap in traffic, then maintain a reduced speed within. As they approach their exit, the right signal should be activated to signal the exit they will be utilizing, while making sure to continue to yield to pedestrians and bicyclists.
In a paper published by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) in 2012, the approach, the circular roadway and the departure were examined for problems that may affect drivers of buses and other commercial motor vehicles. Of the three rankings, the circular roadway represented 56 percent of the potential for “serious problems,” as compared to 30 percent for the approach and 29 percent for the departure. Given these potential problems and their increasing presence, bus drivers need to take additional steps to ensure safe navigation through roundabouts.
Most importantly, bus drivers are expected to stay in their designated lane when approaching a roundabout. There will be times when a bus may track into other lanes and the driver must utilize all available space. The driver of any large vehicle may have to use the truck apron, which is the paved area on the inside of the roundabout that was intentionally engineered into the design for large vehicles when off-tracking.
When making a right turn, bus drivers may need more space than what is provided in the designated lane of travel. In this situation, drivers must be alert to surrounding traffic, pedestrians and bicycles as they enter the roundabout. Once committed, drivers must maintain awareness of their surroundings and proceed with caution until the roundabout has been negotiated.
Drivers needing to make left turns should select the lane that allows them to keep traffic on the “sight side” of the vehicle, if possible. The driver should check their surroundings and when clear, enter the roundabout. While doing this, they must keep in mind that the rear of the bus may off-track onto the truck apron. Continuous monitoring of mirrors is also necessary.
Drivers needing to make a through movement, or continue on their current direction of travel, should select the lane that allows them to keep traffic on the left side of their vehicle. Drivers should continually check for surrounding traffic, utilize their mirrors and proceed with caution until they have cleared the roundabout.
Some of the more complex roundabouts are in the shape of a bow tie. With these, you will have a slight curve to the right, then to the left, then back to the right, and then to the left, which means your vehicle can off-track several times in a single roundabout. This creates exposure to vehicles, pedestrians and fixed objects on both sides of your vehicle.
As roundabouts continue to become more common throughout the United States, bus drivers will find themselves navigating them more often. Always be prepared for other drivers to make mistakes in a roundabout. They can happen quickly and without intention. When driving a commercial vehicle, the other motorists may unknowingly not give you the extra room that you need, especially if they are not expecting your vehicle to off-track into their lane. To help avoid incidents associated with roundabouts, companies should include safe navigation of roundabouts in their initial and continued safe-driver training. Drivers who are well-trained in the safe navigation of roundabouts will be able to do their part in helping to keep our roadways incident-free.
Owen McLean is a Loss Prevention & Safety Services Team Lead at Protective Insurance.