A Driving Instructor's Blog

North America has not previously been known for its roundabouts (used as road junctions). As recently as 2006, it was clear that there weren’t many (if any, prior to the story) in the USA – but that they were being introduced and tried out.

Canadian Roundabout - Canadian highway code

The Americans appear to be taking them very seriously, because you certainly don’t get sites like this about UK roundabouts (dead link removed).

Even just under a year ago, there were reports that roundabouts were proliferating and drivers were “confused” – though I sense a certain amount of patronising going on there, as Autoblog appears to have chosen to ignore the fact that¬†anyone will be confused by anything new (drivers in the UK can take more than 15 years to stop treating a road the way it USED to be laid out after it changes). However, in Maryland alone there were nearly 200 roundabouts according to that report, which is probably more than there were in the entire US only 10 years earlier.

In July this year, the BBC did a story about the “British roundabout conquering the US“. I’m not sure you could call them “British” roundabouts – at the very least, you go round the American ones the other way, so it would be better to call them after another country that uses them AND drives on the right-hand side of the road (but that’s not paternal enough for the Beeb). The story says that around 3,000 have been built in the last 20 years – and it also points out that some states consider them to be “undesirable European imports”, likely to put up taxes and increase accidents. Ironically for those states, the BBC story refers specifically to the Californian town of Carmel, where their purpose has been to remove traffic lights and their associated running costs, and to cut pollution.

I like the quote from a correspondent in the Wall Street Journal:

This is a culture predicated on freedom and individualism, where spontaneous co-operation is difficult and regimentation is resisted.

You see it in the way Americans get in line, or as the Brits say, queue. We don’t do that very well.

Behind the wheel, we’re less likely to abide by an orderly pattern of merging that, though faster for the group, may require an individual to slow down or, God forbid, yield.

[Americans tend to be orthogonal in their thinking and behaviour.]

We like right angles, yes and no answers, Manichean explanations. Roundabouts require more subtlety than we’re used to.

My answer would be that assuming there’s nothing wrong with you at a genetic level, live with it. It’ll do you good.

But the main reason I wrote this was that a news item just came through about local driving schools in Ontario, Canada having just started to include them on their lessons now that more are appearing over there (dead link removed).

Police and planners say that they are proven to reduce accidents and cut pollution (the American states touting that nonsense I mentioned above should take note). But there are still problems:

…but North Americans are still trying to understand them. So the Windsor Police held an information session Monday at the new Erie and Parent roundabout to teach drivers the proper way of entering and exiting.

I didn’t realise that Canada didn’t use them or have many until I saw this. They’re now covered in the Canadian equivalent of our Highway Code (dead link removed).

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