"Look, kids. There’s Big Ben! There’s Parliament,” enthuses Clark Griswold as he points the car into a London roundabout, perhaps for the first time in his American stoplight-strewn life.
The “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” bit — night falling as the Griswold car ceaselessly loops because Clark can’t get left, kids snoring in the backseat as he laughs manically — signaled our cultural discomfort with roundabouts in 1985.
Today we can safely say we’ve reached a turning point. A cultural crossroads.
There are an estimated 7,100 roundabouts in the Unites States. These darlings of transportation officials are said to move more traffic with less serious injury-involved crashes, and are popping up in Michigan like mushrooms after a rain.
Locally, a smooth new circle recently greeted drivers at Hammond/Four Mile, joining a summer roundabout cast of M-37/Vance and Parsons/Airport Access.
There is a learning curve when it comes to navigating this proliferation — we love the official-looking cartoon diagrams of cars entering roundabouts at various points labeled “hoping for the best” — so here’s our shortcut roundabout refresher:
- Are cars in the circle? Hold up and wait until they’re gone. You don’t get a “turn” when you’re outside the circle of trust. Your “turn” comes when traffic clears.
- Is the circle empty? Drive on in without stopping. Don’t whiplash your passengers by braking at the yield, then gunning it into the circle.
- Pick your lane and stay in it. No Toyko drifting, no lane straddling. Commit. If your exit comes quick, stay in right lane; if your exit is farther, stay left. The signs point the way.
- Slow your roll. Multiple lanes in roundabouts are for driving, not passing.
- Try a turn signal. Flick it on when you change lanes or when you exit. Little niceties are appreciated.
- A few more tips: Look BOTH ways for pedestrians and bikers. Exit the circle before pulling over for emergency vehicles. Don’t stop in the circle and don’t crowd big trucks that need more room to turn.
Hopefully that doesn’t make anyone’s head spin. With time and familiarity — there are more roundabouts coming — we’ll be able to drive circles around the old tropes.