Editor’s Note: This post first appeared as NMA Weekly E-Newsletter #585. In response to this newsletter in March 2020, over 50 readers responded with their own ideas about roundabouts. If you would like to receive the newsletter and join the discussion, become a member of the NMA. Join Today!
One of the most basic rules of the road is that a driver must use a turn signal when turning right or left or changing lanes. But is this the case when exiting a roundabout?
The Indiana Court of Appeals says no.
The case started with a 2018 traffic stop in Warsaw. According to court documents, the defendant drove through a Kosciusko County roundabout and exited without signaling. An officer stopped him for failing to signal, and then he was promptly arrested due to the officer’s discovery of drug paraphernalia in the vehicle.
The man was subsequently charged with felony drug possession. Facing several years in prison, the defendant said the traffic stop itself was unlawful because it violated the state statute, and the evidence gathered should be suppressed. The state argued that when a driver leaves a roundabout, he or she is deviating from the normal flow of traffic and requires a turn signal.
The whole case hinged on the question: Must drivers signal when exiting a roundabout?
Traffic in a roundabout moves counterclockwise, and drivers usually have several options depending on the number of exits and lanes. Indiana law indicates that drivers are required when turning right or left to signal no less than at least 200 feet before turning or changing lanes.
The defendant won both his first case and the Appeals Court case because while roundabouts are not excluded from the Indiana statute, these special intersections were not widespread in the state when these traffic laws were established.
The Appeals Court wrote, “Any assumption that the signaling statute specifically applies to roundabouts fails to withstand scrutiny when the reality and logistics of roundabouts are considered.” Basically, due to the way roundabouts work, motorists cannot reasonably signal at the distance the law requires.
Apparently, this case raised more questions than answers according to the Court:
“Based on our current turn signal law, how and when would a motorist be required to signal his exit from a roundabout?
“Must a motorist signal when exiting the roundabout intersection, even when he has traveled straight through and is proceeding in the same direction on the same street upon which he entered?
“Would that be considered a “turn,” or does a “turn” occur only when a motorist chooses to take an exit onto a different street?
“Does exiting a roundabout, which often involves a driver veering to the right, involve a “turn,” or does it depend upon the angle of the exit and the degree to which the driver must rotate his steering wheel?”
Carmel, Indiana Mayor James Brainard, doesn’t believe the situation has to be this complicated. The self-pronounced roundabout capital of the country, the city of Carmel (population 92,000), has built 128 roundabouts since 1998. Brainard recently told the Indianapolis Star newspaper that he believes the state should require roundabout signaling and tickets for those who fail to do so.
The state Appeals Court agrees with Brainard that the law should be updated to include all the numerous roundabout varieties and configurations. The Court added, “All of this convinced us, that Indiana Code Section 9-21-B-25 is a square peg that cannot fit into a roundabout hole.”
The Indiana State Attorney General’s office does not agree with the Court’s ruling and is evaluating its next steps.
So, when should a driver signal in a roundabout? Here is what DefensiveDriving.com states about the issue:
One of the most common mistakes that people use on roundabouts is signaling incorrectly, or not at all. When appropriately used, indicators can be an excellent way to increase safety and convenience on a roundabout, by letting those around you know of your intentions. A good rule of thumb is to always signal immediately before your exit, using your right indicator, just as you would when turning. Correct indication on a roundabout goes as follows:
–When turning right (first exit), signal right as with a normal right turn.
–When going straight ahead, no signal upon entering, signal as you approach your exit.
–When turning left (last exit/three-quarters around), signal left upon entering, switch to right as you come to the exit.