As we start to see more and more roundabouts replacing traditional intersections throughout the GTA, you might be wondering if you are clear about the proper traffic etiquette when using them. If you need to freshen up on your knowledge about how to drive in roundabouts, we’ve gathered information about everything you need to know when navigating roundabouts in Ontario.

What is a roundabout?

A roundabout is a type of intersection where traffic flows in a circle around a central island. It’s like a traffic circle that helps regulate the flow of traffic. It is typically found at intersections where multiple roads meet. These intersections have been popular in Europe for over a century, but are only becoming more common in Ontario only in the last decade. Roundabouts in Ontario are designed to improve traffic flow and reduce congestion and accidents at intersections.  The Waterloo region, home to an area that’s been dubbed Ontario’s roundabout capital, was the first in the province to adopt the revamped design — a British innovation — in 2004.

Roundabout rules in Ontario

Roundabouts are becoming increasingly popular in Canada as a way to improve traffic safety and efficiency. The MTO Driver’s Handbook details how to properly navigate roundabouts for new drivers. We’ve included some of the information found there as a refresher for licensed drivers:

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Approaching a roundabout

  • As you approach the roundabout, look for signage to choose your exit.
  • Choose which lane to use as you would for any other intersection.
  • Use the left lane to turn left or to go straight.
  • Use the right lane to turn right or to go straight.
  • Do not enter a roundabout from the right lane if you want to turn left.
  • Slow down and watch for pedestrians on the approach to the yield line at the entrance of the roundabout. Stay in your lane!

Entering a roundabout

  • Visual checks: Do visual checks of all vehicles already in the roundabout and those waiting to enter, including cyclists.
  • Look left: Traffic in the roundabout has the right-of-way. When preparing to enter the roundabout, adjust your speed or stop at the yield sign if necessary.
  • Adequate gap: Watch for a safe opportunity to enter the roundabout. Enter when there is an adequate gap in the circulating traffic flow. Don’t enter directly beside another already in the roundabout, as they may be exiting at the next exit.
  • Travel counter-clockwise: Once in the roundabout, always travel in a counter-clockwise direction.
  • Keep moving: Once you are in the roundabout, do not stop except to avoid a collision; you have the right-of-way over entering traffic. If in the inside lane and you miss your exit, you must continue around until you meet your exit again.

Exiting a roundabout

  • Signal: Be sure to signal your exit and watch for pedestrians.
  • Maintain your position: Maintain your position relative to other vehicles.
  • Signal intent to exit: Once you have passed the exit before the one you want, use your right-turn signal.
  • Left lane exit: If exiting from the left lane, watch out for vehicles on the right that continue to circulate around the roundabout.

 For a brief demonstration of how to properly signal when exiting a roundabout, click here.

Safety benefits of using roundabouts in Ontario

Roundabouts are safer than traditional stoplight intersections. A study conducted by Transport Canada and the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2000 found roundabouts reduced the number of collisions by 35%, lowered the number of injuries by 76%, and fatalities by 90%. While roundabouts lead to higher accident rates, they are almost all minor fender-benders or side-swipes with little damage. There are also few, if any, injuries — no head-on collisions or T-bone accidents. Typically, when it comes to collisions in roundabouts, travelling at a lower operating speed results in less severe types of collisions. Mostly, there is about a 20-per-cent increase in collisions with a roundabout versus a traditional intersection, but with few injuries. Additionally, head-on collisions are eliminated because all the vehicles are travelling in the same direction. In fact, roundabouts reduce 90% of fatal and 75% of serious-injury collisions, according to studies from the U.S-based non-profit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Traffic circles vs. roundabouts

Roundabouts and traffic circles are both types of circular intersections. However, there are some key differences between the two. Roundabouts in Ontario typically have yield signs or stoplights at each entrance, while traffic circles usually do not. This means that traffic can flow more smoothly through a roundabout than in a traffic circle. Roundabouts also tend to be smaller in size than traffic circles. However, roundabouts are generally a safer and more efficient option.

Environmental benefits

From an environmental perspective, roundabouts are a greener traffic alternative:

  • They cut vehicle emissions and fuel consumption usage down because there is less idling than at intersections.
  • Vehicles slowly drive through roundabouts. There is also an opportunity for municipalities to landscape the central island.
  • They can help to reduce noise pollution from vehicles.
  • They can help to reduce the number of vehicle emissions in an area.
  • They require less space than traffic circles, so they can be more easily implemented in urban areas without having to affect a city’s green space along roadways.

FAQs about roundabouts in Ontario

Must I pull over for emergency vehicles in a roundabout?

If you are in a roundabout when an emergency vehicle approaches, exit at your intended exit and proceed beyond the traffic island before pulling over. If you have not entered the roundabout yet, pull over to the right if possible and wait until the emergency vehicle has passed.

Is there a bike lane on a roundabout?

Many municipalities across the country are beginning to include bike lanes in their design standards for new roundabouts. So, it is likely that you will see more and more bike lanes in roundabouts in the future. However, at present, Canada has no provincial or federal legislation regulating bike lanes in roundabouts.

Do you need to use indicators while driving in a roundabout?

You only need to indicate the left or right signals when you’re leaving the roundabout.

  • If you are exiting turning right, leave your right signal on.
  • If you are taking the second exit, use your signal when approaching the exit.
  • If you are taking the third exit, leave your left signal on until you exit and then use your right signal to exit.

How do I choose a lane in a roundabout?

Reducing your speed as you approach a roundabout will give you time to read the signs and choose the correct lane. Look for signs and road markings to help decide what exit to take and what lane to be in. Never change lanes in a roundabout!

How do I cycle through a roundabout?

A cyclist can dismount their bike and cross when there is space at the crosswalk. Experienced cyclists can ride through as if they were driving a car. You can merge into the lane before the bike lane ends. Ride in the centre of your lane, not hugging the curb. Use hand signals when you are exiting.

Final thoughts on roundabouts in Ontario

Overall, roundabouts are a safe and efficient way to move traffic through an intersection. They can accommodate more traffic than traditional intersections, and they tend to be safer, with fewer accidents. Remember to yield to traffic already in the roundabout and use your turn signal to indicate which exit you will be taking. Roundabouts shouldn’t make you uneasy if you follow the simple guidelines we’ve explained above. Safe driving!

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