Steve Wallace: The straight goods on traffic circles

There have been many requests from readers for another column on traffic circles. Here it is.

The term traffic circle refers to three types of configurations, the diverter, circle and roundabout. The diverter is the easiest to describe: It is a small circle in the middle of an intersection. It is the same as a four-way stop or an uncontrolled intersection, and is found most in residential neighbourhoods.

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A diverter results in a situation where the first vehicle to arrive from four directions proceeds first. Other vehicles follow in order of arrival. When vehicles arrive at the same time, the one on the right has the right of way to proceed.

The only real conflict occurs when a driver wishes to turn left, while an oncoming driver intends to go straight through. As with every other intersection, when facing oncoming traffic with equal right of way, left goes last. The driver, wanting the space occupied by another, must yield the right of way.

A confusing situation that confounds many drivers takes place when all four vehicles arrive at the same time. The rules of the road are generally cast aside. The intimidating presence of a larger vehicle can dictate the order of proceeding. A U-turn at a diverter is legal.

The standard traffic circle is a single-lane offering. Any driver in the circle has the right of way over any other driver intending to enter the traffic circle. All vehicles are travelling in the same direction in this single lane, multi-entry replacement for a typical intersection.

The standard traffic circle has half the crash rate of a typical city intersection. These circles eliminate the likelihood of a potentially fatal head-on crash. They are much more efficient at keeping the traffic moving. Drivers need only signal an intention to exit the traffic circle. It is a good idea, although not a legal requirement, to signal left before entering. This will draw attention to your vehicle and give comfort to others attempting to predict your point of exit, when you signal right.

Looking at the space between vehicles makes it easier to join a circle. The spaces are bigger than the vehicles and moving at the same speed. Going back the way you came is another advantage of a traffic circle.

Roundabouts are multi-lane traffic circles. They replace the standard multi-lane intersection. Traffic moves in the same direction, making a much safer option than an intersection on a busy street. The treacherous left turn in front of oncoming traffic is eliminated. So is the likelihood of a head-on crash. All traffic goes in the same direction. If you miss your exit, you simply go around one more time and get back on track.

There is one flaw in the B.C. interpretation of the proper negotiation of a roundabout. Everywhere else in the world gives the advantage of exit to the driver closest to the centre of the roundabout. All other drivers must allow the inner-circle vehicles an avenue of exit. Our neighbouring province of Alberta conforms to this norm. Only “Backward Columbia” is yet to define the proper yielding process in a roundabout. There is no duty to perform the simple courtesy of allowing the inner-circle vehicles to leave, unobstructed. It is best to travel around the roundabout with a gap to the right of your vehicle, rather than having another vehicle box you in when you wish to exit.

All the above, diverters, circles and roundabouts, are environmentally friendly. They encourage through traffic, and end stop-and-go intersection frustration, which wastes gas and causes unnecessary wear and tear on vehicles. We need more of them.

Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island. He is a former vice-president of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas, a registered B.C. teacher and a University of Manitoba graduate.

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