You never really learn to swear until you learn to drive.
photo credit Robert S. Donovan
You know, I have my driving pet peeves just like everyone else. My work commute is about 20 miles each way, so I have plenty of time for irritating encounters with other drivers. I won’t bore you with all of the things I hate about other people’s driving habits, because I’m sure I am also guilty of a couple of them. I’m not perfect — but I think I’m a pretty reasonable driver, apart from my impatience, which manifests itself in my right foot. I use my turn signals; I check my blind spots before changing lanes; I turn on my headlights in the rain and at dusk; and I wave politely when someone lets me merge ahead of them.
But what is it with people who can’t figure out how a roundabout works? In case you are not familiar with the term, a roundabout is a circular junction, considered a safer alternative to a traditional intersection. Roundabouts slow traffic and allow it to flow smoothly instead of stopping. Entering cars yield to traffic already in the circle, travel one direction around it, and exit via one or more outlets. All in all, they’re pretty simple.
photo credit Grand Canyon NPS
Roundabouts are normally well marked, so you know which direction to go (counterclockwise in right-driving countries, clockwise in left-driving countries), and if you miss your exit the first time, you can continue on around until you come to it again. The idea is to keep traffic moving. The circles have existed in my area long enough so people shouldn’t still be struggling with how to use them. Except that they are.
photo credit baojr
The other day, I drove with Number Young Son to a nearby town. There’s a roundabout on that route. As I approached it, I waited for the cars in it to pass so I could enter. One car passed on its way; the next car stopped before it got to me. Stopped. Dead in the circle. My son said, “Mom, why is that car stopping?” I threw up my hands in a “What the heck??” gesture and motioned for her to continue. She never budged. Instead, she impatiently waved me on. I could see her nodding her head, waving her arms, mouthing, “GO! GO!” Like I was the one holding everything up.
So I went. I’m still shaking my head over that one.
More recently, I was in a nearby town that has several of these roundabouts. Apart from the initial confusion when they were first installed, the public has adjusted to them well. Traffic can be very heavy in that area, but the roundabouts help keep it moving. On this day I approached the circle in the outside lane, as I wanted to take the second exit, which leads to the highway. There were a lot of cars coming and going, but soon it was my turn. As I entered the circle, I had to come to a complete stop, as the car ahead of me had stopped. I noticed that a truck ahead of the car was stopped in the exit, side by side with a van that was facing the opposite way, trying to ENTER the circle via the exit.
The truck and the van had their windows down, and I’m guessing that the truck driver was telling the driver of the van that she was going the wrong direction. Fortunately, there is enough room on that exit for more than one vehicle; otherwise, it could have gotten ugly rather quickly. The truck and car ahead of me took that exit, and as I did the same, I noticed that the van’s driver was a confused-looking older lady. There are several entrances and outlets on that circle, and I wondered if she had confused the two. I hope she was able to get going in the right direction without further trouble.
I’ve done some dumb things in my life, but I have never entered on an exit, nor stopped to let someone into a roundabout. A friend of mine once stopped on the highway, during her driving test, no less, and backed up (!!) to read what the billboard said. Her exasperated examiner halted her test and directed her back to the licensing office. She couldn’t understand why he couldn’t just ‘skip that part’ and continue on.