How to drive a roundabout?
Roundabouts have not been a common traffic feature in Serbia – except, to some extent, in Belgrade. Thus lately, due to roundabouts being built in cities around the country, we’ve been witnesses to unusual situations, such as the one which was recorded in a recently opened roundabout, in the city of Uzice, where drivers didn’t live up to the required driving standard. Not only has the number of roundabouts in Serbia gone up, but they’ve also been upgraded in the form of different horizontal signalization (lanes, which most roundabouts didn’t use to have, have been added). However, the drivers have kept sticking to the old driving routine, which has resulted in traffic incidents, jams and accidents taking place, as is the case with Belgrade’s best known roundabout, Slavija.
These kinds of outcomes should not represent a trigger for any kind of mocking – the theory you learn in a driving school is not to be mistaken for everyday practice -, but rather a useful opportunity to remind the drivers of the rules that apply while in a roundabout, for their own safety.
Who has the right of way in a roundabout? What rules apply when entering and exiting a roundabout? How do you switch lanes in a roundabout and are you allowed to cut off another vehicle in an attempt to exit the roundabout? These are just a few of the many questions traffic participants face on a day-to-day basis, which we will seek to answer in this article, so as to prevent any confusion from kicking in and ease the adjustment to the new driving conditions.
Who has the right of way in a roundabout?
It’s an old rule that whoever is in the roundabout HAS the right of way. But, what does it actually mean? It means that before you enter a roundabout, you have to yield to any oncoming traffic and wait for the right moment to find your way into the roundabout.
As a reminder of this rule, as you approach a roundabout, you will see a yield traffic sign, which comes in the form of an inverted triangle and is located at the entrances to almost every roundabout in Serbia. In the case of a roundabout not being regulated by the aforementioned traffic sign, the priority to the right rule applies, as at any other intersection, which states that the driver of a vehicle is required to give way to vehicles approaching from the right, which further means that, this time and this time only, traffic in the roundabout has to yield to any traffic coming in from the right. However, if there’s a police officer present, whose duty is to regulate traffic, then you act in accordance with their instructions.
Along with grasping the right of way concept, it is of paramount importance to be certain of the direction in which roundabout traffic moves (see the Uzice example above). It is precisely because of this that there is usually another set of traffic signs at the entrances to a roundabout, with 3 white arrows on them, placed in the counterclockwise direction, as reminders of the direction you are to go in, as you enter the roundabout.
How do we enter a roundabout?
So, we’ve shed light on how the right of way system works in a roundabout, but in order to enter one smoothly, you also have to follow the right “path”. This means that the actual moment of entering a roundabout requires, apart from good timing, selection of an appropriate lane, which depends on a multitude of factors, such as:
- the number of lanes in the roundabout;
- the number of lanes in the street from which we are entering the roundabout;
- the number of lanes in the street we are entering, as we exit the roundabout.
For the purpose of clarifying this moment of action, we’ve prepared an image, which illustrates the movement of vehicles, as they enter a roundabout.
As the image shows, choosing the right lane to lead you into a roundabout is very much associated with the exit you’ve chosen to take you out of the roundabout, thus the selection should be made prior to the entrance. This means that, if you’re using a multiple lane street to reach the roundabout, simply rely on the logic you would use at a regular intersection:
- if you’ve decided to leave the roundabout via the nearest exit, enter the roundabout using the right lane and keep following the outside lane in the roundabout all the way to the exit;
- if you’ve decided to leave the roundabout via one of the further exits, enter the roundabout using the left lane and keep following the inside lane (using the outside lane is not against the regulations, but it’s not recommended, as it prevents other vehicles from entering the roundabout) in the roundabout until it’s time to switch lanes and exit.
How do we switch lanes in a roundabout?
After you’ve waited for your “turn” to enter the roundabout and then joined traffic in it - which, due to an increased number of vehicles, can become very busy – using the right lane, you will have to face new challenges in the forms of switching lanes and exiting the roundabout, thus getting to know the rules of driving within the actual roundabout thoroughly comes highly recommended.
It’s not uncommon for a vehicle moving in the inside lane of a roundabout to “cut off” a vehicle moving in the outside lane, in an attempt to exit the roundabout. Remember, a vehicle using the inside lane of a roundabout does NOT have the right of way, which, in this situation, always belongs to a vehicle that’s proceeding with its movement in the lane it is already using. To clarify this, if the driver of a vehicle, which is moving in the inside lane of a roundabout, wishes to leave the roundabout, they mustn’t “cut off” any vehicle, which is moving in the outside lane of the roundabout. Instead, they have to let the vehicle in the outside lane pass them by, and then, in a manner identical to the one switching lanes on a regular (straight) 2-lane road requires, use the right turn signal to move into the outside lane, assuming the way is clear.
Pay special attention to the use of a turn signal when switching lanes in a roundabout and exiting it (don’t use a turn signal when entering a roundabout, as the direction you’re proceeding in is understood), so that the other drivers would have enough time to react.
What if switching lanes isn’t possible at a given moment?
If the outside lane is so busy, that it makes it unsafe for you (and others) to move into it at a given moment, there are 2 schools of thought on what the proper reaction should be and they say that you should either:
- stop, with your right turn signal on, and wait for the opportunity to “squeeze” your way into the outside lane,
- make another circle and then find the opportunity to move into the outside lane (making multiple circles in a roundabout is not against the regulations, but it is not recommended, as it leads to the roundabout being overcrowded).
Regardless of what each of the aforementioned schools has to say on this matter, there are reasons for and against both options, and it is up to you, the driver, to properly evaluate the situation and act accordingly. If traffic in the outside lane is so busy, that a window of opportunity isn’t likely to appear, and there are a lot of vehicles following you in the inside lane, it’s probably smarter to make another circle and then find a more convenient position for switching lanes. On the other hand, if the lane you’re moving in (inside lane) is not crowded, and the odds of an “opening” in the outside lane are favorable, wait for the right moment and switch lanes when it comes.
With all these rules in mind, there’s one you should never neglect while driving in a roundabout – trams ALWAYS have the right of way.
How do we exit a roundabout?
So, having waited for the right moment (you yielded to traffic in the roundabout) to enter the roundabout and having chosen the right lane to do so (you also switched lanes within the roundabout - if needed - by waiting for an opening to appear in the outside lane and using a turn signal), all there’s left for you to do is leave the roundabout, with the use of a turn signal, via your exit and yield to, not only trams, but also pedestrians and cyclists, who are crossing your exit street.
Seeing it as we’ve already stated that no theory can replace everyday practice, if, despite the rules we’ve covered in this article, you still don’t feel confident enough to give driving in a roundabout (initially, a less crowded one, and then, one with more traffic in it) a try, we advise you to start off in the presence of a more experienced driver (if needed, a driving instructor), until you feel comfortable enough to do it on your own.
We hope you find these pieces of advice useful. Feel free to contact us for any suggestion, doubt or proposal for a topic that interests you.