How to Safely Use Roundabouts in BC

Yield Sign at Roundabout

The rise of roundabouts in BC has set some people’s heads spinning on how to safely navigate them, whether as a driver, cyclist or pedestrian. So, we created the following guide to help set the record on roundabouts …er… straight.

There are more than 35 roundabouts on provincially maintained roadways across the province, but not all roundabouts are designed the same. Roundabouts can vary in size, number of lanes, and number of entrances and exits. Nevertheless, the same basic rules apply for all roundabouts.

How to Use Roundabouts

Drivers

There are two golden rules for entering an intersection controlled by a roundabout:

  1. Before entering, look left and yield to all traffic in the roundabout coming towards you.
  2. When entering the intersection controlled by a roundabout, continue moving counter-clockwise and to the right of the rotary traffic island before exiting.

Multi-lane roundabouts at intersections have directional signs and pavement markings to help guide drivers. The signs offer a general depiction of the roundabout, complete with destination symbols (i.e. airport) and road names; they also show which lanes should be used for the various destinations. As you approach the intersection controlled by a roundabout, look at the signs to determine which lane you should be in. Get into the appropriate lane for your destination before entering the roundabout.

Now that you have chosen your lane, identified your destination’s exit, and yielded to pedestrians using the crosswalk, then come the golden rules stated above. This is the crux of any roundabout – get this right, and you’re in pretty good shape.

As you approach your exit, activate your right turn signal so pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers know your intentions.* And again, yield to pedestrians that may be crossing the exit lane’s crosswalk.

*More on signalling at the end of this blog 

Roundabout Diagram
Roundabout basics, image courtesy of ICBC.

With Large Trucks

Roundabouts have what is called an “apron” encircling the centre island. This raised, coloured section allows longer, wider vehicles extra clearance when needed. Please remember to give large trucks lots of room to travel through roundabouts.

With Emergency Vehicles

If you are driving in a roundabout and you hear an emergency vehicle, do not stop! Continue through your intended exit and then pull over.

Cyclists        

Cyclists have a couple choices when it comes to roundabouts.

  1. Use it like a vehicle: In advance of the roundabout, hand signal and merge with traffic when safe to do so, occupying the lane and proceeding into the roundabout as a vehicle would. Important reminder to drivers: cyclists have the right to use the full roundabout lane – be patient, and for goodness sake, no honking!
  2. Use the shared pathway: Before the roundabout, exit the bike lane on the ramp provided and share the pathway with pedestrians and other active transportation Reduce your speed and be aware of others you’re sharing the pathway with. Dismount and use the marked crosswalks to cross the intersecting streets like a pedestrian. Exit the raised pathway at the ramp that leads down to the bike lane or shoulder of the road.
Shared Pathway Sign
Cyclists, pedestrians and other active transportation users can you the shared pathway.

Pedestrians

Pedestrian crosswalks with pavement markings are located about one car length away from the roundabout. It’s important to only cross at these marked locations; don’t get stranded by cutting across to the central island (there’s really no reason to be there and it’s not safe).

Although vehicles are required to yield to pedestrians, you shouldn’t initiate a crossing unless there’s an adequate gap in traffic or all approaching vehicles have stopped. It’s important to note that a dedicated bicycle path may also connect to these crosswalks – be aware that you’re sharing the crosswalk and pathways with cyclists.

Why Roundabouts?

Intersections controlled by roundabouts are increasingly becoming a go-to design. So, why are they being used more? It comes down to, what we like to refer to, as the bread and butter of transportation: safety and traffic flow.

Roundabouts keep people moving and can reduce backups during heavy traffic volumes. Less traffic standing still means less emissions from idling engines, too. Also, roundabouts reduce the number of conflict points over signalized intersections, thereby decreasing the severity of collisions.

Roundabouts are used when engineering and traffic analysis determines they will provide improved safety and traffic flow for users. Some considerations include traffic volumes, number of intersecting roads, land/cost requirements and collision history.

Sicamous Roundabout
Roundabout at the intersection of Main Street and Highway 97A in Sicamous.

History of Roundabouts in BC

While circular intersections (rotaries) existed in North America since the early 1900s, the modern roundabout was born out of the United Kingdom in the 1960s, before emerging in Canada in the 1990s.

One of the first modern roundabouts built on a provincial road in BC is the double roundabout on Eighth Avenue, just off Highway 99 and west of Highway 15, near the US border. This location, which opened in 2005, features two roundabouts on either side of the interchange.

In 2011, one of BC’s largest networks of roundabouts opened to traffic on Highway 17 at McTavish Road just south of Sidney. Previously a signalized intersection, a combination of three roundabouts improved traffic flow to and from the Victoria International Airport, the Swartz Bay ferry terminal, and the rest of the Saanich Peninsula. The roundabout network also incorporates a six-bay transit exchange and 200-stall park and ride lot.

Some more recent examples of roundabouts include:

  • Highway 1 at McCallum Road in Abbotsford – two multi-lane roundabouts and a four-lane overpass replaced the two-lane bridge over the Trans-Canada Highway, improving access to and from the city. Work was completed in 2011.
  • Highway 97 six-laning project in Kelowna – a roundabout was used on the side road realignment at Rutland/Old Vernon to improve access and keep traffic moving through the area. Work was completed in 2018.
  • Highway 16/37 near Terrace – construction of a roundabout to replace the existing four-way stop is underway with completion expected in late 2020.
  • Highway 93/95 in Radium Hot Springs – the current four-way stop results in heavy backups, especially during the peak summer months. Roundabout construction started June 1, 2020, and is expected to be completed in fall 2020.
McTavish Roundabout
One of three roundabouts at Highway 17 and McTavish Road.

Signalling at Intersection Controlled by Roundabouts

As roundabouts have become more and more popular, proper signalling in roundabouts has become a bone of contention. That’s partly because signalling in roundabouts is not specifically covered in the BC Motor Vehicle Act, the authority on driving.

There are, however, relevant sections: Section 170 and Section 150 (3).

As ICBC states in their Learn to Drive Smart Manual, signalling right before exiting a roundabout is beneficial, as following vehicles know your intent to exit. Signals when turning is included in the BC MVA: “If a signal of intention to turn right or left is required, a driver must give it continuously for sufficient distance before making the turn to warn traffic.”

That means, when entering an intersection controlled by a roundabout:

  • If intending a right turn: Signal right on approach, and continuously signal right until the right turn is complete.
  • If intending to drive straight through (i.e. you’re not turning right or left at the intersection): No signal until exiting – then signal right to exit, as per ICBC’s recommendation.
  • If intending a left turn: Signal left on approach, and continuously signal left until approaching the exit. Signal right to exit, as per ICBC’s recommendation.

This view is shared by other countries, such as the UK, and it is our recommendation. That said, it would be a victory in and of itself if drivers at least signalled right before exiting roundabouts. We see many drivers that do not signal at all – whether entering or exiting – roundabouts.

Roundabout Diagram

You can also check out the following helpful blogs:

>> How the Lions Gate Bridge Counterflow Works

>> Top 3 Ways to Be Truck Aware

>> Traffic Signal Power Outage! What Do You Do?

Have we left anything out? If so, let us know in the comments section below.

35 comments on “How to Safely Use Roundabouts in BC”

Leave a Reply to Michelle Albinati Cancel reply

  1. I remember having to navigate a double lane traffic circle in Dawson Creek in the early 80s for my driver exam. You would not believe the number of tourists driving up the Alaska hwy in their big RVs that were not trained to use a traffic circle. Some just took both lanes, but others tried backing up (instead of just taking a second round) when they missed their turn. Glad they made it part of driver training there. I fully agree with the use of the left signal as well. If people use it at a normal intersection why would they not in traffic circle? It helps those entering to understand driver’s intent.

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  2. Do not tailgate the car in front of you to block transports from entering on your right. It’s very common to see 5 or 10 cars bumper to bumper which forces others to back up

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  3. Growing up in Victoria in the ‘50s I remember the intersection at Douglas and Hillside was a roundabout feeding all the streets that meet there. I would like to see it brought back.

    Another way to think of entering a roundabout as continuing on your current road so no signal is necessary. Leaving the roundabout is leaving your road so signaling is warranted.

    Reply
    • Thanks for connecting with us here and for sharing your comment, David. We will share your feedback with our traffic engineers, although this particular location would primarily fall under the jurisdiction of the City of Victoria.

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  4. I thought coming to this page would help. Ha Ha Ha! I give up! I ain’t gonna signal at all and take my chances. Gimme the ticket. Gosh Darned Idiots (government) Toilet seats still $6000 or did they go up again . . .

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    • Thanks for coming anyways, C. Smythe. We understand that some folks are still trying to figure out the rules of the roundabout. We hope that this blog gave you some insight into how to roll with them. If you have any specific questions about roundabouts – or anything else we do – just let us know here and we will try to get you the answer. Safe travels.

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    • Thanks for your message Steve. We are looking into producing a video. In the meantime, if there is something in particular which is confusing you – let us know and perhaps we can help clear it up!

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  5. Icbc should send a copy of this to everyone with their renewal notices. Nobody seems to know how to drive through the circles or when to signal

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  6. I question turning on your signal as soon as you enter roundabout unless you are taking the first right exit. If taking second right exit and signalling before passing first one you are telling drivers entering that you are turning before you actually are and they then enter cutting you off! Yes please do signal as soon as possible on approaching your right exit .

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    • Thanks for the comment, Rocky. We are only recommending drivers activate their right signals when entering a roundabout if they intend to use the right exit. If turning at the left exit, activate left signal until approaching left exit, then activate right signal upon exiting.

      Here’s how the blog breaks it down:

      That means, when entering an intersection controlled by a roundabout:
      • If intending a right turn: Signal right on approach, and continuously signal right until the right turn is complete.
      • If intending to drive straight through (i.e. you’re not turning right or left at the intersection): No signal until exiting – then signal right to exit, as per ICBC’s recommendation.
      • If intending a left turn: Signal left on approach, and continuously signal left until approaching the exit. Signal right to exit, as per ICBC’s recommendation.

      Does this help clarify?

      Reply
  7. Signaling left when you enter a roundabout to exit at the 3rd exit is a stupid idea the same for no signal if you go straight. Who other then the car behind you knows when you entered. Signaling right when leaving makes the most sense. What if there are only 3 roads or more then 5 roads connected by a roundabout.

    Reply
    • Hi Mark. The BC MVA states a driver whose maneuver impacts another must signal. A roundabout controls an intersection. In most cases, the intersection would otherwise be a four-way stop controlled by traffic lights or stop signs, requiring the driver to signal accordingly. However, the number of exits does not matter – if your intention is to turn left, for example, at the intersection controlled by a roundabout, you should signal left when entering and right to exit.

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  8. Wise advice from the maritimers…
    DONT TRY THE ROUNDABOUT BESIDE A LARGE CMV!!!
    It’s just common sense.
    Apron be damned, if your coming up on my right I cannot see you in a roundabout. I have no idea you are there.
    So from the easterners…
    Do not enter roundabout or navigate a roundabout beside a big truck. It’s actually a ticketable fine

    Reply
    • Hi Vik,

      I think what the City of Vancouver webpage is saying is, if two vehicles arrive at two different entrances to the roundabout at the same time, the person on the right, goes first. (Somewhat like if two vehicles stop at a four-way stop intersection, coming from different directions, at the same time, the person on the right goes first. If you’d like to clarify or confirm that, I suggeest you contact the City of Vancouver: https://vancouver.ca/your-government/contact-the-city-of-vancouver.aspx

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    • You are correct, it is a confusing description in the Vancouver site.
      Important to note, it talks about “when 2 vehicles enter at the same time…”…
      Once IN the roundabout, the vehicle that was on the right when the 2 vehicles entered, would be ahead of the 2nd vehicle. I take it that there cannot be overtaking within the roundabout..
      Upon EXITING, the vehicle on the left (inside lane) has the right of way, as was always the case in North America…
      GH

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  9. Excellent article! Hopefully, with time more people will signal in roundabouts.

    Also, why doesn’t the ministry use flashing yield signs at roundabout approaches on highways or at highway interchanges? They would provide more emphasis on the need to yield to traffic in the roundabout. For example, the roundabouts at the Pat Bay Highway and McTavish Rd. As many people simply don’t look left when entering. The Minnesota Department of Transportation found that, on average, flasher equipt stop signs lowered collision rates by 41% across the study intersections. In theory, flashing yield signs have similar safety benefits. (Example of flashing yield signs: https://www.tapconet.com/product/24-7-blinkersign-flashing-led-yield-sign-r1-2)

    Reply
    • Thank you for reading, Colton. Appreciate the feedback. And yes, we also hope that in time, and with continued education, people will signal more. As for flashing yield signs, the Highway 17 / McTavish Avenue roundabouts have two such signs: one on the N/B highway exit, and one from Canora Road. Are these the types of signs you are referring to?

      I’ve also asked our engineering department for other examples.

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          • We haven’t used flashers above yield signs in BC. We do have a process in place for consideration of flashers at stop controlled intersections, but not yield controlled. However, our traffic operations engineers do have the ability to explore other measures where standard approaches have been tried and found to be lacking (hence the vehicle activated yield signs at McTavish).

            At McTavish, for example, we found that some vehicles at two of the approaches (from Highway 17 northbound and coming from the airport) were tending not to yield. Part of the issue we determined was that due to the curvature of the approaches, the yield signs at the roundabout were not as visible as we would like. So, we explored using the vehicle activated electronic signs that are there now. These signs could be placed in advance, making them more visible. We also wanted something that would not flash all the time, but rather would activate when a vehicle approaches, making them more eye-catching.

            When it comes down to it, our traffic engineers do have the ability to consider additional approaches, such as flashers. But we don’t go straight to using all the bells and whistles for every situation. Rather, we have standard approaches that we use and, if we see an issue, we consider additional measures. This ensures a more consistent and cost-effective approach.

          • Also, there have been several instances where vehicles enter the roundabout too fast and end up losing control and crashing. There is only a single “50 km/h” exit advisory speed at the beginning of the ramp but there is no “30 km/h” advisory speed prior to the relatively sharp curve on the roundabout approach. Has the ministry looked at adding additional advisory speed signs on the roundabout approach from the Hwy 17 NB off-ramp to address these collisions? Thank you!

          • Hi Colton,

            Ministry staff will review the collision data on the McTavish roundabouts. If we feel additional warning signs are required, we will install further signs. Thank you for your suggestion.

  10. The problem with the new roundabout in Terrace is that I see a lot of vehicles not yielding as they enter, not even slowing down. They just barrel right through! I’ve been traveling through the roundabout a few times, with my young children in the vehicle and have had to jam on the breaks to avoid being sideswiped by larger vehicles not stopping. What can be done about this, it is so dangerous.

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    • Hi there Amanda – thanks for your comment. We understand that some drivers are inexperienced with roundabout ettiquite, which is why we created this content to help educate. Unfortunately, we are not in a position to enforce the rules of the road – that falls to the BC RCMP. Perhaps try reaching out to the local detachment and expressing your concerns?

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  11. The Motor Vehicle Act is NOT a guide, it is Provincial Law which carries fines and penalties when not complied with.

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  12. What about the roundabout in Dawson Creek, at the intersection of Highways 97, 49, 2 and Eighth Street?

    Reply