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How traffic circles should be treated in South Africa

We’ve all been there before, stuck at a traffic circle or roundabout, unable to move forward due to an unending stream of cars from one direction not giving anyone a gap.

While opinions on how traffic circles should be treated vary from driver to driver and can result in heated conversations, the National Road Traffic Act (NRTA) is clear on how these road fixtures must be dealt with.

Roundabouts are placed on a street for several reasons, including but not limited to calming traffic, reducing accidents, and improving intersection capacity.

It’s therefore important to know how they work to ensure safe passage for yourself, your passengers, and your fellow drivers.

Heed to the right

When approaching a traffic circle it’s important to take note of all the available information, including oncoming cars, traffic signs, traffic lights, and lane markings which direct you into the correct lane.

According to Arrive Alive, you’re generally not forced to come to a complete stop, but you should enter the roundabout at a slow speed for safety.

As you get to the intersection, the NRTA states that traffic coming from your right has the right of way.

Official legislation reads: “[Signage] indicates to the driver of a vehicle that he or she shall move in a clockwise direction at the junction ahead and he or she shall yield right of way to traffic approaching from the right, within the roundabout, where such vehicles are so close as to constitute a danger or potential danger.”

In practice, this means that traffic flowing into the roundabout from the entrance to your right is allowed to keep coming so long as there is no one coming from their right.

These cars are not required to slow down when they enter the circle since they have the right of way, so you must stop and wait until there is a break in traffic before moving ahead.

Once you are on the roundabout it’s wise to maintain a reasonable speed. Failing to do so, especially in the right-hand lane, may result in other drivers haphazardly passing on the nearside.

If you are planning to turn left, or take the first exit out of a roundabout, signal left with your car indicator and approach the circle in the left-hand lane. Once inside the roundabout, keep to the left and continue signaling until you have exited.

When going straight, select the appropriate lane on approach to and on the roundabout. If there are no markings on the road it is usually safest to keep to the left.

Stay in this lane until you need to alter course to exit the roundabout, and signal left after you have passed the exit before the one you want to use. In other words, if you intend to take the second exit, only turn on your indicator after you have passed the first one.

To turn right, or take the third/last exit, signal right and approach the roundabout in the right-hand lane.

Keep to the right on the roundabout until you need to change lanes to exit, and signal left after you have passed the exit before the one you want to use.

Roundabout vs mini-circles

It must be said that the above rules apply to standard traffic circles/roundabouts, but not necessarily to a mini-circle, like the ones you’d find in most residential areas.

Drivers should treat mini-circles as they would four-way stops, in other words, they should give way to other vehicles that reach or cross the line before them.

Official legislation on mini-circles reads: “[Signage] indicates to the driver of a vehicle approaching a mini circle that he or she shall yield right of way to any vehicle which will cross any yield line at such junction before him or her and which, in the normal course of events, will cross the path of such driver’s vehicle and that the driver shall move in a clockwise direction within such junction and attempt not to encroach on the mini-circle.”

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