Lost in a roundabout

Round and round the roundabout

Roundabouts and traffic circles are not new to British Columbia, but if the complaints in my inbox are any indication, they are still totally mystifying to some drivers.

Common issues include bulldozing into the circle without yielding, signalling when there is no need, not signalling when there is a need, and yes, going around them in the wrong direction.

Most e-mails observe that while new drivers may be taught how to use these intersections properly, the rest of us have to figure it out on our own and somebody has to clue us in. In general, fingers point to either the provincial government or ICBC having primary responsibility for this task.

I disagree. Basic responsibility for keeping driving skills up to date rest with the individual driver.

There is certainly no lack of information on the subject. ICBC has a web page on How to Use a Roundabout, a Roundabout Information Guide and the Learn to Drive Smart manual. TranBC's website explains Rules of the Roundabout, a How to Use Roundabouts Guide and has videos to watch and learn from.

Of course, DriveSmartBC website visitors have a collection of roundabout and traffic circle information to browse as well.

If you think about it, the task is not that difficult. As you approach any intersection you scan for other road users, vehicles, cycles and pedestrians, and signs that control your travel.

In the case of a single lane roundabout or traffic circle, you see a yield sign as you approach. If there is any other road user present, you must yield to them as necessary prior to entering. The centre is marked with a sign that tells you to proceed around it to the right. Since that is the only way to go, no signal is required.

Exiting does require a signal to tell others what you are choosing to do.

When the roundabout has two lanes, things become a bit more complicated, but when broken down into individual steps there is nothing new here either.

As you approach the roundabout, there is a sign that tells you which lane you must enter the roundabout from based on where you intend to exit. Switch to the appropriate lane if necessary.

Yield as usual and proceed counterclockwise.

Follow the lane use markings once you are inside. If you are nearest the centre, exit into the left-most lane. Otherwise, exit into the right lane.

Confused? There is nothing to stop you from staying in the roundabout and trying again when the next opportunity comes around.

The only other complication that comes to mind is if you are approached by an emergency vehicle, but that's not really different either. If you are in the roundabout, get out and pull over.

If you are approaching the roundabout, stop before you enter and let the emergency vehicle pass.

Finally, what happens when you encounter a traffic circle that doesn't have yield signs posted? We yield to the right at uncontrolled intersections, don't we?

Hmmm. I guess that will have to be the subject of a future article because I don't have a definitive answer for you.

Story URL: http://www.drivesmartbc.ca/intersections/round-and-round-roundabout


Fast laser nails fast drivers

Measuring vehicle speed with laser

I can remember the anticipation when our highway patrol unit was issued it's first laser speed measuring device, an LTI 20/20 Marksman.

Imagine! Here was a device that we could point at a single vehicle in the traffic stream and accurately measure only its speed. It was fast enough to re-target and measure the vehicles around it too. No one would want to use hand-held radar once we were trained on this.

Training was a full-day event. We spent the morning learning all about the device and an afternoon under the supervision of an experienced instructor using the lidar ourselves.

Lidar sends out a train of laser pulses in a tight beam that would be about the diameter of an orange at 300 metres distance. It had to receive a significant number of those pulses back in recognizable form before it would display the target vehicle's speed.

If something was not right, instead of a speed it would display an error code. As long as the error was not due to a system failure of some sort, you could correct it and immediately try again.

If traffic was light and the vehicle was large and reflective, you could make accurate speed measurements at distances of over a kilometre.

Preparing for a shift was a simple exercise. You plugged the laser in and turned it on. The power on self test ran and issued either a pass or fail.

A pass meant proceeding to the aiming test. A distant target (we used a utility pole with a crossbar) was selected that had sharp horizontal and vertical edges with nothing close behind.

The laser was put into aiming mode and the sighting dot passed over the target. A change in the audible tone signified when the beam was passing over the edges of the target. If the tone change corresponded to the visual observation of the dot in the aiming scope touching the edge, it was aimed correctly.

Proper aim meant continuing to the fixed distance zero velocity test. We had set up three permanent targets in our parking lot that we had carefully measured the distance to. The lidar had to show a zero speed reading and the correct distance to each target before we could be satisfied that it was measuring correctly.

With testing completed and recorded in my notebook, I was ready to find a location and start issuing speeding tickets if the opportunity presented itself.

When a speeding ticket was disputed I had to satisfy the court by testimony that I had qualified to use the lidar, it had been tested and found to be in proper operation, the motor vehicle driven by the accused was targeted correctly and a speed that corresponded to visual observation was measured.

It goes without saying that the measured speed had to be higher than the prevailing speed limit for the location of the offence.

At that point, the onus of proof to the contrary shifted to the disputant. In my experience, if the officer did everything as they were trained to do correctly this type of speeding evidence was difficult to disprove.

Story URL: http://www.drivesmartbc.ca/police/measuring-vehicle-speed-laser

Make way to give way

Sirens! I'm being overtaken by an ambulance on the way to a call.

Signal, move out of the right lane onto the shoulder and stop. Traffic around me seems to be well aware today too as they are doing much the same thing.

Emergency right of way is being granted promptly until the ambulance reaches traffic stopped for a red light at an intersection. This is where the emergency response grinds to a halt as the stationary drivers don't seem to be either willing or able to get out of the way.

Thank goodness it didn't take long for the signal override to function and the traffic lights to turn green. That seemed to open the dam on the traffic stream and the ambulance was on its way again.

Part of the problem is that we are not prepared for a situation like this in every-day driving. How often have you been stopped at a red light and then been called on to make way for police, fire or ambulance vehicles racing to an emergency?

Without practice it does take longer to act in any situation because we don't have any experiece to act on.

The next time you find yourself stopped in traffic at a red light, imagine that you have to make room for a sudden emergency. Will you move to the left or to the right? Have you left yourself enough room to move forward? If you are at the front of the line, did you stop far enough back from cross traffic?

The law requires that you move to the nearest edge of the roadway. On a two-lane highway with traffic in either direction, that would be to the right. On a highway with a barrier between directions or on a one way street with more than one lane, you may have to move right or left depending on which side you are on.

In any event, use your signal light and do what you are indicating that you will do.

When you stop behind another vehicle at a red light, you should always be able to see pavement between the hood of your vehicle and the bottom of the rear tires of the vehicle in front. If you are on a hill and behind a heavy truck or new driver with a standard transmission, you might want to leave a larger gap as a precaution or courtesy.

This serves two purposes, giving you room to move aside in and keeping you from being part of the accordion in a rear-end collision.

Did you stop far enough back from the intersection, behind the marked stop line or crosswalk? Many drivers do not and this seriously limits their ability to move forward and to one side without coming into conflict with other traffic in the intersection.

Having stopped properly, you have at least the width of the crosswalk in front of you to move forward into without actually entering the intersection itself. This may be all that you need to be able to get to one side or the other to clear a path.

One last thought and that is to be prepared for an emergency vehicle whose driver chooses to drive on the wrong side of the median barrier approaching a clogged intersection.

It is legal to do this if it is done safely, so if you are oncoming traffic to an emergency vehicle you must be prepared to yield for more than just a left turn in the intersection.

Story URL: http://www.drivesmartbc.ca/emergency-vehicles/make-way-give-way


2 kinds of driving errors

I watched a woman run a stop sign the other day while I was out for a walk.

I knew she travelled this route often and she should be familiar with stopping there. I could see she was checking around her as she approached the T intersection, so I'm going to assume that she was in a hurry and made the conscious decision to slow down instead of stop.

She stopped at the community mailboxes just in front of me and got out of her vehicle. I briefly considered mentioning her decision not to stop and asking her to be more careful as this was the time of day when children could be coming home from school.

I worried about the possibility of a confrontation instead of a friendly discussion of viewpoints and decided that I wasn't feeling flame proof. I walked by and kept my thoughts to myself.

The SUV driven by the lady was carrying the identification of a major Canadian corporation. Communicating with them would not be difficult and I could suggest that they should take their representative to task for her action.

Given my experiences making driving complaints, I discarded this idea and did not even briefly consider reporting it to the police.

I've returned to the situation in my mind a number of times and conclude that drivers make two kinds of mistakes — honest ones and deliberate decisions to disregard the rules of the road.

I try my best every time I get behind the wheel to pay attention to what I am doing, follow the rules to the letter and drive defensively. It would be mortifying to cause problems for other road users, but despite my best intentions, I make mistakes.

No matter how hard I try, I will never be the perfect driver that I want to be.

When I fail in my driving duties, I might feel the sting of a traffic ticket, suffer embarrassment, or need the cushion of insurance to help compensate for my error.

Hmmm, that's pretty much exactly what the drivers who deliberately disregard the laws face too.

Our system doesn't really differentiate between the two until that behaviour becomes chronic or another road user is injured or killed. Even then, in most cases, the cushion of insurance is still there to take hurting ourselves out of the consequences of our bad decision making.

The courts and RoadSafetyBC sometimes seem ill prepared to apply what the community sees as an appropriate penalty.

Perhaps I should have stopped and politely pointed out to this lady it is not acceptable to run stop signs in our neighbourhood. If she is a reasonable person maybe that is all that is required to insure that she stops next time.

At the other end of the scale, if you deliberately decide to disobey and kill someone, that should be the end of your driving career: 

  • Period.
  • Full Stop.
  • No do overs.

What do you think?

Story URL: http://www.drivesmartbc.ca/behaviour/drivers-make-two-kinds-mistakes

More Behind the Wheel articles

About the Author

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. He has been writing his column for most of the 20 years of his service in the RCMP.

The column was 'The Beat Goes On' in Fort St. John, 'Traffic Tips' in the South Okanagan and now 'Behind the Wheel' on Vancouver Island and here on Castanet.net.

Schewe retired from the force in January of 2006, but the column has become a habit, and continues.

To comment, please email

To learn more, visit DriveSmartBC

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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