Driving in Circles… Some Still Trying to Decipher Roundabouts

Roundabouts seem to be popping up everywhere, even in our fair city, where for some drivers they can cause confusion, chaos and… maybe even some colorful words.

While driving in circles has yet to be completely embraced in Kingsport, we have given in to the notion that they are quite useful if used correctly. Our most famous roundabout is Church Circle, a downtown landmark, while others are located on Industry Drive, Watauga Street, Gibson Mill, at East Stone Commons, New and Market Streets, and in Ridgefields.

Traffic circles, as some folks call them, have been a thing in Europe for years (believe it or not there actually exists a British Roundabout Appreciation Society). Folks in Britain love roundabouts – they say that’s because the British are all about compromise and cooperation. The United States, on the other hand, is said to be more of an aggressive, confrontational culture, which is why the roundabout hasn’t been more widely embraced here. Hmm, could be something to that.

Or it could be another one of those metric system things. Back in the 70s Europe tried to force that stuff on us, and well, we Americans don’t really like it when somebody tries to make us do something we don’t want to do so we just thwarted that whole movement. And all these years later, we’re still pretty proud of the fact that liters, meters and kilometers are as foreign to us as REAL football is to our neighbors to the east.

This roundabout contraption, though, has somehow gathered steam and some states have truly welcomed them.  Washington, Colorado, California and Kansas seem to love them. Meanwhile, these foreign circles of confusion are not nearly as welcome in the South – which says something, since we’re known for our hospitality. And in Northeast Tennessee…well, let’s just say Alabama football is likely more popular (OK, maybe they’re not that detested but you get our point).

It’s not just people in our neck-of-the-woods who don’t get them. Google “How to navigate a roundabout in the U.S.” and you’ll be shocked at how many entries pop up. Some cities even have classes on how to maneuver your way around one of these peculiar loops. Not even kidding.

Here’s the deal: we’re used to stop signs and traffic lights. And those are pretty easy to figure out – you don’t really need a guidebook to know that you STOP at a stop sign and green means go, red means hold your horses and yellow means floor it (we kid, we kid).

These traffic loop abominations are a whole other story. You have to do some thinking when you’re coming up on one. Like, how fast are you supposed to drive through the thing and are you supposed to yield to somebody coming in from a different arm of the circle? Who has the right of way and how many times is acceptable to go around in the circle before you finally figure out which road is the one you need to be on?

For those who aim to master a roundabout with ease, the general rules are as follows:

 

  • If there’s more than one lane in the roundabout, stay in your lane.
  • Check the speed before entering the orb of bewilderment
  • Continue toward the roundabout and look to your left as you near the yield sign at the entrance to the roundabout. Yield to traffic already in the roundabout
  • When you see a gap in traffic, enter the circle and proceed to your exit. If there is no traffic in the ring, there’s no need to yield.
  • Look for pedestrians and use your turn signal before you exit

 

If you follow these tips, you should be able to expertly navigate a roundabout. Or, you could just drive another block over and find a perfectly respectable stop sign or light that doesn’t require too much brain power or colorful words you’d rather your children NOT repeat.