Turn Signal on a Roundabout; Readers’ Comments Part 3: NMA E-Newsletter #588

Editor’s Note:  Part 3 will be the final chapter for readers’ comments on our Newsletter #585. More than 40 readers emailed us their thoughts on roundabouts. We did a tally on how many believe in signaling or not signaling in roundabouts:

  • 46 percent for signaling
  • 32 percent opposed to signaling
  • 22 percent who did not indicate either way

For additional comments, please read Part 1 and Part 2.

Readers’ Comments Part 3

As you point out, the standard is to signal 200 feet before changing lanes. I can enter and leave pretty much any roundabouts in this county before my car has traveled 200 feet. If I’m at a 4-way roundabout, and I want to take the third exit, I would have to have my right signal on pretty much as I enter, then pass the other two exits without exiting at them, contrary to my signal. That is actively misleading the other drivers. If instead, I only signal after I pass all the exits I won’t be taking, and I’m going to be barely within the reaction time of anybody behind me who would care. The entire concept is ludicrous and unworkable.

CD, Arizona


Having driven in Ireland, where roundabouts are the norm rather than the exception, I followed the practice of signaling just before the exit. When driving on the left, roundabouts are clockwise and seemed easier than in the US, maybe because drivers are used to them!

Russell, New Mexico


First, let’s look at the reason we have turn signals. It’s basically to remove uncertainty (or surprise) by other motorists about actions you take that affect them.

Following that idea, in my experience with roundabouts, the most important place where uncertainty needs to be removed is the uncertainty on the part of a driver who is entering a roundabout, regarding whether the next car coming around will exit at that point (typically upstream of his entry point) or proceed around. “Is this guy exiting, in which case I can proceed to enter, or is he coming around, in which case I wait?” Of course, at some point, you find out one way or the other, but the uncertainty here (as in many different traffic situations) leads to hesitation at best, and an accident at worst. This makes the case that turn signals should be used when exiting the roundabout.

Using signals upon exiting the roundabout also addresses the second most important place where uncertainty needs to be removed— signaling the driver behind you of your intent to exit and of possibly slowing down.

Conversely, what good would using a turn signal when entering a roundabout do? Is there any doubt in other drivers’ minds that a car sitting on the approach to the roundabout intends to enter? There’s no possible element of surprise here. But what’s so bad about a little hesitation created by uncertainty? Not much, until you take the big picture view of the traffic system and multiply one little hesitation by millions of situations. It makes the difference between the free-flowing, coordinated choreography that we all dream driving could be, and the stop-and-go, jerk-action, desperate-last-second-lane-change situations that we actually experience.

Jim Toscas, Illinois


The funny thing about roundabouts—New Jersey used to be the king of circles, and the butt of Jersey jokes. NJ has all but eliminated them now, and I believe it is because out-of-staters (like me) never understood how to drive in them. I always figured the person with the least fear had the right-of-way. In Pennsylvania and other states, new roundabouts have signs detailing the right-of-way. 

I was not aware of any law for signaling, but since I signal almost by instinct, I use that right turn signal to let oncoming drivers know I’m leaving, and they can consider entering the circle. I had hoped to create a trend by example, but it’s not working so far. No matter, I feel funny when I don’t signal (please do not consider me a holier-than-though; I simply drive a lot and have too much time to think about things like this).

Jeff, Pennsylvania


Totally moot. Nobody signals their turns (or stops), and the stupid state doesn’t use its overhead freeway displays to “remind” stupid drivers to do even simple things: move to the right, signal your turn, turn left from the left lane, right from the right, etc.

Big Wayne, California


Roundabouts come in many forms. Our county roundabouts are both single and dual lane. 

For a single-lane roundabout, there doesn’t seem much sense in signaling at all. No lane changing because there’s only one lane. Signaling left to go left could defy the facts of turn signal mechanics, which decree that the turn signal goes off if the wheel is turned opposite to current direction, i.e., activate the right signal while turning left.

In our two-county dual-lane roundabouts, I use turn signals only when changing lanes within the turnabout. Good sense requires letting others know that I’m changing lanes. 

Generally, the turns in turnabouts are gentle enough that reducing speed below the already slow turnabout speed is not required. Thus there is no impediment to traffic when a motorist proceeds out of the turnabout. I disagree with DefensiveDriving.com that signaling is necessary to exit turnabouts. 

Roundabouts are very efficient traffic flow devices. They should be built everywhere possible to replace stop signs. Good sense and situational awareness have kept traffic moving since the first one was created. Adding complications like how many feet from a roundabout “out” to signal, or whether to signal, just impose an unnecessary burden on the driver.

Art, Colorado


While not elucidated anywhere in statute, lane positioning is a less obvious way of handling this. If you think about it, your position in the lane is strong, but a less obvious signal of your intended path. Activating your signal is, in a way, a conscious break in your driving flow, but in a roundabout, signals must be too precisely spaced for noncompliance to be reasonably ticketable.

It’s almost as if this case opens up a new venue for descriptors of reasonable driving. Acts and omissions that, while not ticketable, should be part of the conscious awareness of every driver.

How does a government or other sanctioning body define and disseminate rules and guidelines like this?

It makes me think of the difference between Japan and the US when it comes to issuing licenses in the first place. Think about how easy it is to get a license in the US vs. Japan. Now think about how easy it is to get a motorcycle license in the US vs. getting a 750cc MC license in Japan. We’ve made our choice in the US—we choose to license drivers with minimal instruction and make it possible to get a license without learning about subtleties like roundabouts. Yet, the mayor of Carmel, IN, wishes to penalize drivers for not learning about these manifestly untaught subtleties.

Eric, California


Everyone entering must turn right, so signaling does nothing but distracts both the signaler and the signaled. Everyone leaves by turning right, but they should be in the right lane unless it is a two-lane exit (rare), so nobody is affected, no need to signal. 

Signaling lane changes in multi-lane rotaries is a good idea. A rotary where all exits are on the left would flow better, but requires expensive over/underpasses! There is a natural conflict between entering and exiting traffic with the right entry and exit. Also, we need education, so people realize that they can go around again if it is hard to get off!

David Pickett, New Jersey


No signaling. There are too many roundabout configurations which would require many different signaling rules. Signaling affects a driver entering the roundabout from the same road the car is exiting. Anyone who believes the signal of a car exiting is a fool. There are too many instances of cars mis-signaling to rely on the signals of a car exiting.

Mike Smyth, Washington State


The whole question of turn signals in roundabouts is ridiculous. In even the simplest roundabout (the intersection of two perpendicular streets), the last place a driver looks at is the taillights of the car in front of him. Safety demands he divides his attention between looking left and behind him for traffic that has the right of way, and cars entering from his right who may or may not judge his position correctly. Add to that, a requirement that he calculate distance from the next exit to know when to switch from signaling left to signaling right. 

Turn signals should be used to alert other drivers that you are going to depart from straight ahead, so they can back off and give you room to do that. Everyone in a roundabout is going to turn, either right now or very soon. Everyone knows that. Turn signals simply add complexity for zero benefits. 

The only safe way to negotiate roundabouts is to SLOW DOWN and be prepared to yield. Remember, the alternative is sitting and waiting for a red light to change. Just as a lane merge on a highway goes faster and more safely for everyone when drivers slow down, be courteous, and alternate, roundabouts are faster and safer for everyone when drivers do the same thing.

Stephen Leonard, Idaho


I just read newsletter #585, and I find the roundabout signaling issue to be a huge issue in my area. I agree that the right turn signal should be used. Especially as a vehicle approaches a roundabout to turn right, as that would allow a car waiting at the roundabout to yield to his right, yet still enter the roundabout, knowing the oncoming driver is turning, and his progress will not be impeded.

Signaling a left turn as approaching is ridiculous, in my opinion, as no driver actually tracks, or needs to follow, every other vehicle through 270 degrees of travel.

Where I live, confusion about what it means to yield is a significant issue in roundabouts. It seems many drivers feel the need to wait for at least one approaching vehicle to their left, whether they needed to or not, based on distances. Since this lengthens the time for every driver behind them, in a one-lane roundabout, traffic can back up for a mile in all directions during peak times, or if it is snowing. Yielding to the right of way does not mean you have to wait for one vehicle, which might be 600 feet from the roundabout. Roundabouts are made to slow drivers down. Now, drivers wait for a car that slowly enters and passes through the roundabout.

Tom, Wisconsin


I think this is the most ridiculous thing I have heard recently. It seems to me that the powers that be simply are, yet again, looking for a source of revenue, a reason to interject themselves into the personal life of ordinary citizens and have absolutely no interest in furthering traffic safety and protecting the lives of the citizens.

In some traffic circles, the distance between exits is so short that I believe confusion would be a significant problem. Of course, the government sees dollar signs. It is irresponsible government, like the ones pushing this in Indiana, who are turning law enforcement into tax collectors and diminishing their reputation in the eyes of the public.

Jeffrey, Pennsylvania

Not an NMA Member yet?

Join today and get these great benefits!