Going In Circles

10 January 2013 at 6:52 pm (Uncategorized)

Here’s a pet peeve of ours.  It also happens to be something educational.  It’s a source of considerable frustration, not to mention unnecessary hazard, that motorists in Gauteng generally seem unaware of the rules for negotiating a traffic circle.  (We would rather believe that it’s obliviousness instead of wilful contrariness, fuelled by ego, that drives bad motoring habits.)  In the past, there were very few traffic circles in the PWV area, and when the municipalities started introducing them several years ago, no educational initiative was ever undertaken to explain to the public how to use these circles (likely on the assumption that people should know anyway since it was part of the Learner’s Licence test), which would explain why uncertainty persists about their proper use.  Well, “uncertainty” is the wrong word.  “False certainty” would be more apt.

Traffic circles can regulate traffic very effectively provided motorists use them as they should.  On more than one occasion it has publicly been said that a traffic circle must be treated like a four-way stop, namely first in, first out.  This is nonsense (except in unusual circumstances at a mini circle).  The entry points to a traffic circle have yield signs, not stop signs, which already gives a good clue to the correct protocol.

If the traffic circle is single-lane, there are just four simple rules to follow:
(1) On approaching the circle, yield to any traffic in the circle that is, or very shortly will be moving towards you from the right.
(2) On approaching the circle, indicate your intention as follows:  Left if going one-quarter way around, no indicators if going straight across, and right if going three-quarter or all the way around.
(3) Always indicate left shortly before leaving the circle.
(4) Do not stop once you are inside the circle except when you have no choice (e.g. due to an accident or the circle being choked up with traffic).

If the traffic circle is dual-lane, there is an additional rule governing lane selection:
(1a) On approaching a dual-lane circle, select your lane as follows:  Left lane only if going one-quarter way around, either lane (but left preferred) if going straight across, and right lane only if going three-quarter or all the way around.  Never stop, change lanes or overtake while in the circle except in an emergency.

Rule (1) above means that you need to look to your right and if there is traffic in the circle coming towards you, you must stop and wait until there is no more traffic coming from that direction.  At a small circle, this can include traffic already in the circle or about to enter it from any direction because large vehicles may not be physically able to negotiate the circle properly in accordance with the road markings.  It is best to stop at the entry to a mini-circle if there are any doubts about traffic conditions in its vicinity.  Unfortunately, the SA Road Ordinance was rather thoughtlessly and clumsily adapted for mini circles, creating the impression that a mini circle is to be treated like a four-way stop.  However, a careful reading thereof reveals that the rules and explanations given above adequately cover the requirements.

Under the right (wrong?) conditions, you may have a lengthy wait ahead of you but remember that a traffic circle is largely self-regulating in that it safely and preferentially alleviates those directions from which traffic flow is heaviest, and in fact the latter is the main idea behind a traffic circle.  In this context, it is worth remembering that if you enter a circle and another vehicle collides with yours on the right, the accident is automatically your fault.  Rules (2) and (3) alert other motorists to your intentions.  Whereas Rule (3) is not yet required in SA, it is mandatory in the UK and Australia.  Clearly it makes good sense always to give other road users advance warning of your intentions.

Rule (1a) is broken so often in Gauteng that it’s not even funny.  In particular, it happens far too often that motorists travel three-quarter way around a circle in the outside lane, putting other circle users at risk of getting unexpectedly sideswiped or crashing into the offending vehicle.  Moreover, these are usually the same motorists who neglect to use their indicators in the circle, leaving everyone to guess what they’ll do next.

Rule (4) is also broken very often in Gauteng.  Typically, it is done out of courtesy, which on the face of it seems admirable but is in fact somewhat misplaced and inappropriate.  If you stop in the circle to let in two or three vehicles and you thereby inconvenience fifteen or twenty or more other road users behind you by forcing them to stop too, then you have disproportionately pleased a few that were required to stop in any case at the expense of a greater number that you’ve managed to annoy.

It should be obvious that if a significant proportion of circle users obeyed this simple rule set, much of the hazard and frustration of negotiating traffic circles in Gauteng would simply evaporate.  But to succeed in this, we motorists need first to familiarise ourselves with these principles and then strive to apply them diligently.  As the saying goes, practice makes perfect.  Whenever possible, we should also share this information with others so that they are made similarly aware and hopefully will also spread the message.

(Abstracted in part from Arrive Alive)


1 Comment

  1. James said,

    It doesn’t help that there are separate rules for “Roundabouts” (as described above) and “Mini circles” and many motorists apply one set of rules to both types of traffic circle. I accept the need for two types of traffic circle, but this is confusing some motorists because they assume that they know the rules for “circles” and that applies to every kind of traffic circle. This means that the drivers simply ignore the traffic sign indicating which rules to use and use their own judgement. On two occasions, I’ve asked friends what the rules are for circles and they’ve told me one of the sets of rules and been unaware that there is another type of circle with different rules.

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