Traffic Circles: Who Has the Right of Way?

Traffic circles are growing in popularity as cities across the country, especially here in California, are trying to find cost-effective ways to reduce automobile accidents and save lives. Proponents of these unique traffic designs offer a number of arguments as to why they are superior to traditional intersections. If you regularly commute in California, there is a good chance you will eventually encounter a traffic circle. And if you’ve never driven in one before, you might be confused as to who has the right of way.

Text Kevin Accident Attorneys, a California personal injury and car accident law firm, is here to provide guidance. We can also represent your legal interests in the event you are involved in a car accident involving a traffic circle.

What Is A Traffic Circle?

A traffic circle is a circular road design that allows a continuous or nearly continuous flow of cross traffic without the need for traffic lights and full stops that are characteristic of the traditional intersection. A vehicle approaching a traffic circle is required to yield to drivers who are already traversing through the circle, and stop in the event traffic has not yet cleared. However, they do not have to wait for a traffic light to signal them to go. Also, they only must stop if there is approaching traffic which would make it unsafe to enter the traffic circle.

Although the term “traffic circle” is thought to be synonymous with “roundabout,” there is an important albeit subtle distinction between the two. At a traffic circle, a driver can expect to see stop signs or yield signs at each entry point. At a roundabout, however, there are usually only yield signs for entering vehicles. Roundabouts also have added features to facilitate safety while also promoting the relatively continuous flow of traffic.

Where Are Traffic Circles Common in California?

Traffic circles are increasingly common, especially in cities and areas known to have heavy traffic. Transportation officials are actively working to incorporate traffic circles and roundabouts into new road projects while also redesigning existing intersections. You can also expect to see more traffic circles at intersections where accidents and unsafe driving have been known to occur. Checking your city’s website, or doing a quick Google search, can inform you where these circles will soon be appearing.

Why Might Traffic Circles Be Safer Than Intersections?

Advocates for traffic circles have offered a number of reasons why they are safer than traditional intersections. Among them are:

  • Smoother and safer flow of traffic: Unlike intersections, where cars stop and go, traffic circles allow the continuous or nearly continuous movement of traffic. This reduces congestion and delays, especially during rush hour, which could minimize fender benders, rear-end collisions, and other common accidents.
  • Reduced frequency of major accidents: Head-on and T-bone accidents are among the most dangerous types of car crashes. The design of traffic circles is intended to minimize the frequency of these severe accidents and therefore save lives and avoid critical injuries.
  • Better fuel efficiency: California leads among the states in taking innovative steps to reduce fuel consumption and limit harmful automobile emissions. The traffic circle naturally fits into this strategy by eliminating constant stops and starts.

Who Has the Right of Way in a Traffic Circle?

If you’ve never driven in a traffic circle, the first time can be a little confusing. It may not be completely clear who has the right of way unless you pay close attention to the traffic signs. To make your first experience with a traffic circle easier, our firm offers the following right-of-way rules for various scenarios you are likely to encounter:

  • When entering the traffic circle: As you approach the circle, slow your vehicle and get ready to stop. Look to your left to determine if there is any traffic in the circle approaching your direction. If there are no vehicles or there is a safe enough distance between other automobiles and you, then you can enter the circle. But you should always yield to vehicles that are already in the circle regardless of which lane they are in.
  • When exiting the circle: Automobiles that are within the circle have the right-of-way to exit onto their desired street. But to do so, the driver needs to signal his or her intention prior to reaching the exit point. Also, the driver must check for pedestrians or bicyclists who could be crossing the exit lane and wait for them to do so.
  • Circles with multiple lanes: The same general rules above apply, but there are additional considerations:
  1. Before you enter, select the appropriate lane based on your intended exit: For example, use the right lane if you plan to exit soon after you enter the circle. If your desired exit is further around the circle, you can enter the left lane. However, you should be prepared to yield to vehicles already in that lane.
  2. Don’t unnecessarily change lanes: It is strongly recommended that you do not change lanes once you are in the circle. If you must do so, then use your traffic signal.
  • Traffic circles with pedestrians and cyclists: Pedestrians and cyclists have the right-of-way at all crosswalks that are within or around the traffic circle. Drivers are required by law to yield to pedestrians and cyclists in the crosswalks.
  • Emergency vehicles in traffic circles: Yield to any emergency vehicles with activated lights and sirens that approach the traffic circle. This is the same rule that applies to traditional intersections. If you are already in the roundabout, take your exit, pull over to the right, and allow the emergency vehicle to pass you.

What To Do If You’re In A Traffic Circle Accident

For more safety tips and legal advice about traffic circles, read our blog post on the topic. If you have been injured in a traffic circle accident, you will need dedicated legal counsel to demand the compensation you deserve. That’s where the California law firm of Text Kevin Accident Attorneys comes in. To find out more or to get started with your claim, give our office a call today.