Right of Way Rules at Roundabouts for Drivers & Pedestrians: Who Goes First?Updated Oct. 12, 2020
Right-of-way conflicts are less common on roundabouts than they are at other intersections, as all traffic is moving in a counterclockwise direction and there are no left turns. This eliminates the risk of left-turn, head-on and 90-degree angle crashes, and makes right-of-way easy to establish.
The golden rule when it comes to roundabouts is that traffic approaching the intersection must yield the right-of-way to traffic already circling the center island. Most roundabouts advertise this rule clearly with “YIELD” signs posted at every entrance and yield pavement markings painted across the roadway. Keep in mind that the most common cause of collisions at roundabouts is drivers who do not yield right-of-way before they enter.
Most roundabouts feature pedestrian crosswalks prior to the roundabout entry point. As a driver, this means you must yield twice on your approach to the roundabout: once prior to the pedestrian crosswalk and once at the roundabout entrance.
Right-of-way at single-lane roundabouts
As you approach the “YIELD” sign at the roundabout entrance, look left to check for vehicles already traveling around the center circle. You must slow down and be prepared to stop and wait for a safe gap in traffic before merging onto the roundabout. If there is no traffic approaching from the left, you may enter the roundabout without coming to a complete stop.
While circling the roundabout, you will have right-of-way over traffic seeking to enter from adjoining roadways. Do not yield to allow other drivers to enter; stopping or slowing suddenly on a roundabout is prohibited. As you approach your desired exit, activate your right turn signal to communicate your intention to leave the roundabout. Having taken your exit, remember to look out for pedestrians at the crosswalk and yield if anyone is waiting to cross the street.
Right-of-way at multi-lane roundabouts
Right-of-way rules on multi-lane roundabouts are the same as those on single-lane roundabouts, though approaching drivers must yield to all lanes of traffic already on the roundabout. You will also need to ascertain which lane you must use, based on which exit you need to take. Having yielded to all existing traffic, you must merge into your chosen lane immediately and remain there until you exit the roundabout. This issue is covered in more detail in our “Driving through Roundabouts” article.
Drivers who wish to leave at the first or second exit must usually occupy the right-hand lane, while drivers staying on until the second or third exit should occupy the inner, left-hand lane. Signal your intention to leave the roundabout, remembering to yield to pedestrian traffic at the crosswalk beyond your exit.
Pedestrian right-of-way at roundabouts
Nearly all roundabouts have pedestrian crosswalks around 20 to 30 feet prior to each entrance. You must yield to pedestrian traffic using or waiting to use the crosswalk, as the right-of-way is theirs. When pedestrians are present, you must come to a complete stop prior to the first painted lines of the crosswalk or at the limit line. Wait for all pedestrian traffic to clear the crosswalk before driving on to the roundabout entrance.
Keep in mind that you may encounter pedestrians pushing bicycles at roundabout crosswalks. While cyclists are permitted to use the roundabout like other vehicles, they often take the safer option of wheeling their bicycles over the crosswalk.
Emergency vehicles at roundabouts
All vehicles – both on and off the roundabout – must yield to emergency response vehicles seeking to enter or exit the intersection. Emergency vehicles such as fire trucks, ambulances and police cruisers always have right-of-way when their sirens and flashing lights are active.
If you can hear or see an emergency vehicle approaching, yield the right-of-way by pulling over to the roadside and stopping until they have safely passed. Motorists traveling around the center island of a roundabout MUST exit the roundabout before pulling over, as stopping on a roundabout (or any other intersection) is prohibited.
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