Letter: How to resolve roundabout problems
I thought the Carmel roundabout turn signal ticket issue had been resolved when the city council defeated the proposed ordinance. However, it looks like the mayor has not given up on promoting a roundabout turn signal requirement.
In my opinion, there has been ample argument presented against how such an ordinance could actually be workable. It seems to me that the next sensible step should be to find a better solution than mandatory turn signal usage to solve the problem this new ordinance was trying to address. But before a solution can be developed, there needs to be a good definition of the problem that needs to be solved. In my mind, the basic problem is how to insure the proper and safe usage of a traffic roundabout under any and all possible situations. In other words, there needs to be a “driver’s ethics” for proper roundabout usage.
Decades ago, when I took a driver’s training course so that I would know how to function safely behind the wheel in traffic on public streets and highways, I learned the “driver’s ethics” that would allow me to do that. It was called courteous driving. Even though roundabouts did not exist at that time, most of those existing ethics rules do apply to them very well, rules such as staying in the proper lane, travelling at the posted speed and observing yield signage. The existing ethics rules on the usage of turn signaling do not apply very well because of the short distances involved in roundabout designs. There is just no way to give a 200-foot notice of your intended turn.
If roundabouts were looked at as being one-way streets rather than intersections and all streets intersecting with them were considered to be “T” intersections controlled by a yield sign for the entering street, then there would be no need for using a turn signal. This is because the vehicle in the roundabout (on the roundabout street) would always have the right of way and all vehicles, no matter which street they are on (either the roundabout street or the entering street) would always only be making a right hand turn.
The only vehicle maneuver in question would be onto which street the roundabout street vehicle would be turning right to exit the roundabout. However, since it does not have the right of way, the entering street vehicle is obliged to wait to see if the roundabout street vehicle is exiting or not. That is the only time a turn signal would be helpful. Signaling could be used as a courtesy, but since the distance for applying the signal is so short, it should not be required because it cannot meet requirements of the existing law.
Therefore, the only problem in roundabout traffic flow is that the entering street vehicle driver does not know whether the roundabout street vehicle is going to exit or not so that he can proceed. And the only time that would be really a problem, rather than just a slight inconvenience, is when the traffic on the roundabout street is very heavy, such as during rush hour. Even then, if the vehicle on the roundabout street is in the proper lane and going the proper speed and the vehicle on the entering street is going the proper speed and observing the proper yield sign usage, there would not be many problems.
I reside in Carmel and have driven through most of the roundabouts. From this experience, I believe the city has done an excellent job of marking the lanes and placing signage for the lanes and speeds for the roundabouts. With the well placed signs and street surface markings, it is very easy to understand how to navigate the roundabouts. The driver only needs to look at the sign or street marking and then make sure before entering that their vehicle is in the lane that will take them to the direction they want to go when exiting the roundabout.
However, I have observed a lot of drivers not following those signs and markings. The most common misuse seems to be related to aggressive drivers who do not use the proper lanes and or proper speeds as posted. They seem to treat the roundabouts as a slalom racecourse rather than a traffic pattern. They bully their way onto and off of them slowing down as little as possible. I believe their interest is speed to get somewhere during rush hour rather than courteous driving. Another common misuse I have observed is lack of driver attention. These are drivers doing something else, usually involving a communication device, and winding up not properly yielding or being in the wrong lane for where they are intending to go.
To solve the roundabout misuse problems that I have described, I would encourage the city to develop and publish a “driver’s ethics” for proper roundabout usage. It should be made available everywhere possible so the public can be educated. Then, after the public understands the driver’s ethics expected for safe roundabout navigation, the problems could then be solved by merely enforcing existing laws and ordinances regarding the observation of posted speeds and proper lane, yield sign and cell phone usage. There should be no need to create any new or misapply any old ordinances to resolve roundabout traffic problems.
Roger Kellams, Carmel