Screencap: Region of Waterloo

A few weeks ago, Ryan posted an article on Jalopnik to help dispel the mysteries surrounding roundabouts, which in recent years have only just begun to catch on in Michigan. It was a nice, short article, based on MDOT’s simplification of the proper procedure. Unfortunately, MDOT’s explanation only briefly mentioned the use of a turn signal.

So I decided to start a conversation there, asking commenters what they thought was the proper procedure for signalling when using a roundabout. The responses flowed like crazy for the next couple of days, as debates raged over how to use them, and whether they were even necessary at all.

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The discussion eventually trailed off, until after about a month, I received a reply from user dolsh. While it echoed some of the previous responses, it also contained a link to Waterloo’s explanation of how a roundabout works, which was simple, thorough, organized, and importantly: authoritative (at least for that area).

Turning Right

• Signal right as you approach the roundabout in the right-hand lane. Maintain your signal through the roundabout and stay in the right-hand lane. Maintain your signal as you exit in the right-hand lane.

Going Straight

• Do not signal as you approach the roundabout and select the appropriate lane. Stay in this lane until you need to exit the roundabout. Signal right prior to your exit, and exit from the lane you are in.

Turning Left

• Signal left as you approach the roundabout in the left-hand lane. Maintain your signal through the roundabout and stay in the left-hand lane. Signal right prior to your exit, and exit in the left-hand lane.

Going full circle (U-turn)

• Signal left as you approach the roundabout in the left-hand lane. Maintain your signal through the roundabout and stay in the left-hand lane. Signal right prior to your exit, and exit in the left-hand lane.

Nice, isn’t it? It comprehensively communicates your every move to other drivers in a way that not only avoids collisions, but also lets them know when your path won’t be a conflict.

Screencap: RTV6 News

Say you’re approaching a roundabout and you see a car making its way around from the other side. Where is that driver going? Do you have to stop and wait for them to complete their turn across your path? Or are they going to leave the circle earlier, and are therefore none of your concern? Proper signalling removes this doubt, and can give you a chance to avoid stopping unnecessarily.

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It’s also beneficial for the vehicle approaching the roundabout to signal. Sure, that signal may be irrelevant to the right-of-way-bearing vehicle already moving through the circle, but it gives valuable information to drivers behind the waiting car, who in some cases may want to choose another lane (if available) through the circle.

Unfortunately, my home state of Michigan apparently requires only that you signal to exit the circle. (Welp, at least it’s not illegal for me to adopt Waterloo’s superior system and proceed to use my signal before and during the roundabout, as appropriate.)

Now, Michigan’s relatively weak position on turn signals here might seem like a mere oversight, but check this out: As I was researching this topic, I happened to stumble upon a bit of news from our neighbor to the south, Indiana. The city of Carmel had apparently been debating this very issue:

That’s right, despite having an actual discussion on the subject, the council decided against requiring turn signals in roundabouts. To be fair, they do claim to have an interest in encouraging drivers to use their signals anyway, just as a courtesy. But they’ve given into pressure from drivers who aren’t up to the task. “When you go to actually try to do it, it’s a lot more confusing than it sounds,” claimed one local resident. “I don’t think it’s going to enhance traffic flow,” said another.

The proposed (and subsequently shot down) ordinance requiring the use of turn signals would have imposed a discretionary fine of up to $100, but in many cases, it would likely result in little more than a warning. Interestingly, Indiana already has a law on the books requiring that drivers signal “before turning or changing lanes”, and that statute does not appear to exclude circular intersections. Kinda makes you wonder...