Once upon a time, I made a concerted effort to avoid the much-maligned traffic circles while behind the wheel. I had seen the panic-stricken faces of my fellow motorists as they approached these new-fangled intersections, and I scoffed at the assertion that they were safer than stop signs or traffic lights.
Then I started working in Carmel, which has more roundabouts than fast-food restaurants-its 100th is expected to open this year. And it turns out they're easier to navigate than a double drive-through lane.
Now I find myself grumbling when my progress is slowed by a red light, especially if I have to wait a full cycle for just one or two other cars to pass. If you know what you're doing, roundabouts are the way to go.
Here are some tips for navigating roundabouts like a pro:
Keep your eyes on the road. It sounds obvious, but distractions abound. When you're in roundabout country, it pays to pay attention to the signs that let you know what lies ahead. They provide a literal roadmap to which lanes go where, so you can get (and stay) in the right one.
Look left, not right. When you're preparing to enter a roundabout, forget the look-both-ways edict you learning in driving school. Since traffic moves around the central island in one (counter-clockwise) direction, you only need to worry about vehicles approaching from the left. Remember, they always have the right of way.
Keep your foot on the gas: Once you're in the roundabout, keep moving as long as the cars in front of you are moving. One of the advantages of these intersections is that traffic slows but rarely stops. And if you miss your "exit," you'll have another chance on the next lap.
Use your turn signals: Contrary to what seems to be popular belief, using turn signals is not the vehicular equivalent of a "kick me" sign. I look at the practice as a courtesy, a way to communicate my plans for the road I share with other motorists. In a roundabout, that means I signal a right turn before I exit, so drivers approaching the intersection know they don't have to wait for me to pass.
Watch your speed: It turns out roundabouts are safer than traditional intersections, in large part because vehicles aren't flying through them at 55 mph. Carmel officials say roundabouts have reduced the number of personal-injury accidents by about 80 percent, and the total number of accidents by about 40 percent. Speed limits vary depending on the angle of the curve, but rest assured they're not just an idle suggestion.
Carmel has been building roundabouts since the late 1990s, and the rest of Hamilton County is jumping on the bandwagon. More than 150 intersections have been converted countywide already, and dozens more are on the drawing board in Westfield, Noblesville, Fishers and beyond.
Since discovering my love of roundabouts, I've only encountered one that has presented a challenge - the five-pronged behemoth just east of Interstate 69's Exit 210. Despite several attempts to get to a Taco Bell located nearby, I always seem to end up in a hospital parking lot. Maybe the traffic gods are trying to tell me something.