LAST WEEK, I asked you to respond to Betty Brown's complaints about traffic circles in Maryland. She particularly didn't like the fact that motorists didn't wait for her to enter the circle, forcing her to wait for the entire line of cars to pass before she could enter. Roundabouts, she said, give people a chance to be rude.
The need for driver training and concern about driver ignorance of the rules was the theme that emerged from your comments. Most of you believed the solution is more driver education. I agree, although most circles sport signs commanding incoming drivers to yield to drivers already in the circle. You can lead a driver to the intersection, but you can't make him (or her) read the signs.
Ann Henry gave a typical response. "I think drivers need training for the roundabouts. Most people freeze or try to slip in. If they'd just read the sign, it indicates what to do. So [Ms. Brown] had to wait a few minutes. Big deal. I like the roundabout. I think they're safe. After all, you can run a stop sign but it's pretty hard to run a roundabout." Although Nick St. Amant joked that he doesn't mind roundabouts unless his wife is driving, he believes that the Towson roundabout at Dulaney Valley Road and York Road is a nightmare. "It's two lanes, and many drivers just don't understand. They get into the inside lane, which is ridiculous, because then they have to get to the outer lane to exit the circle," he said.
Joan Magnant, a self-styled "fan of the circle," also urges more education about the circles. "I believe that the driving public needs to be educated as to the proper way to proceed into a roundabout. In England, this information is included in every driver training course and makes for a much more rational and informed approach to the circle. The sign is placed at every roundabout entrance: `YIELD TO TRAFFIC IN CIRCLE.' This is so often not done. The drivers already in the circle are not required to stop; drivers entering the circle are required to slow and observe traffic, awaiting the appropriate time to enter the flow. Stopping midcircle creates a very dangerous situation," she said.
Ms. Magnant also believes that roundabouts are significantly safer than four-way stops, where drivers "all seem to jockey for position to see who can be first out of the gate."
"I have had many more near-misses at four-way intersections than in negotiating roundabouts," she said. "Will somebody please find a way to inform the driving public about roundabout etiquette!"
As I stated last week, I like the roundabouts and believe they are safer than traditional intersections - as long as drivers don't stop midcircle, as a misguided motorist did for me last week. He narrowly missed being rear-ended by the driver behind him. The rest of this column is dedicated to him. This information comes courtesy of the Maryland State Highway Administration; more information can be found at SHA's Web site at http://www.sha.state.md. us/safety/oots/roundabouts/index.asp.
You need to signal as you approach traffic circles, just as you would for a traditional four-way intersection. (I guess, in too many cases, that means drivers won't signal at all.) If you're turning right, unless posted otherwise, use only the right lane if there are multiple approach lanes; use your right-turn signal. If you intend to go straight, you can use either lane if there are two approach lanes; do not use any turn signals. For left turns, use one of the left-hand lane if there are two approach lanes; use your left-turn signal.
As you approach the roundabout, always reduce your speed and keep to the right of the splitter island. Move up to the yield line and wait for an acceptable gap in traffic. Do not enter next to someone already in the roundabout, because that motorist may be exiting soon.
Within the roundabout, don't stop except to avoid a collision; you have the right-of-way over entering drivers - and as one reader once memorably commented, if you've got the right-of-way, take it and get the heck out of the way. Stopping midcircle is misguided courtesy at best and dangerous always.
Always keep to the right of the center island and travel in a counterclockwise direction. Don't pass other vehicles or bicyclists when in the roundabout. I differ from the SHA's Web site about the next point. The site says, when you have passed the last exit before the one you want, move into the right lane. Use your right-turn signal and continue to use your right-turn signal through your exit. When exiting from the inside lane, watch out for leading or adjacent vehicles on the outside that continue to circulate around the roundabout.
What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at TrafficTalk@comcast.net, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia, 21044. Include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.