It’s possible for an Ontario motorist today — whatever her/his age or driving experience — to approach a roundabout for the first time and be completely unaware of what it is or how to navigate it.
A roundabout is a type of intersection where traffic flows in one direction (counter-clockwise) around a central island. There are three main categories of roundabouts, determined by size and the number of lanes: mini-roundabouts, single-lane roundabouts, and multi-lane roundabouts.
In Canada, there are more than 400 roundabouts — they have been popping up since the 1990s. In Grey-Bruce County, near where I live and work, we got our first roundabout on Hwy. 21 and Bruce Rd. 10 about a year ago.
The reasons for building a roundabout, as opposed to a standard traffic light or stop sign, are sensible and hard to deny. They are meant to increase the safety of motorists, pedestrians and cyclists, increase traffic flow, reduce travel delays, and reduce unnecessary idling.
While studies have shown that roundabouts lead to higher accident rates than traffic lights or stop signs, the accidents that occur at these intersections result in fewer serious collisions and injuries and almost no fatalities.
The problem with roundabouts, however, is that motorists are learning to adapt to them “on the fly,” without any required training or education. While the Ministry of Transportation did revise the Driver’s Handbook to include roundabouts in 2012, to this day, the Highway Traffic Act contains no rules whatsoever to guide motorists and others travelling through these traffic-go-rounds — nor any mandate for new motorists to be tested on roundabout safety.
Clearly, an opportunity exists to educate both beginning and experienced drivers on how to navigate roundabouts; to answer questions of motorists who encounter a roundabout for the first time, or those who traverse them daily but have no idea how to safely navigate it. Which lanes should be used? Where and when do you signal? Where do pedestrians and cyclists go? These questions often leave drivers making split-second decisions.
Also Read: How to use roundabouts and why they are safer
Roundabout education should be a mandatory part of testing for young drivers, and older drivers should be required to take a refresher course on the subject.
In 2016, Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris reintroduced a private member’s bill called the Safe Roundabouts Act for the third time. The Safe Roundabouts Act is a proposed amendment to the Highway Traffic Act, which calls for a section specifically dealing with roundabouts.
The Bill amends the Highway Traffic Act to enable the minister to make regulations establishing rules of the road that apply to roundabouts. For instance, in Waterloo Region, government signs instruct drivers to yield to pedestrians at the curb, but this isn’t written in law. Drivers are therefore confused about what to do.
As Harris points out in a recent press release, “as the occurrence of roundabouts across Ontario continues to increase, so too do questions over safety and concerns over consistency of rules for drivers and pedestrians navigating their way through — and across — these traffic circles.”
The Safe Roundabouts Act is an important piece of legislation that needs to be given high priority and passed, but it has been stalled in the legislature since it was first introduced. As the government continues to consider changes to the Highway Traffic Act to increase road safety, the Safe Roundabouts Act seems like a perfect fit.
For drivers unfamiliar with roundabouts, I urge you do some research so that you are prepared when you encounter one. The more frequently you use a roundabout, the more adept and comfortable you will be when driving through one.
For more information about roundabouts, visit www.mto.gov.on.ca
and type ‘roundabouts’ in the search bar.
This column represents the views and values of the TADA. Write to email@example.com or go to tada.ca. Larry Lantz is president of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association and is a new-car dealer in Hanover, Ont.