Traffic Q&A: What are the rules on signaling in a roundabout?

Drivers like the one at left entering this north Gig Harbor roundabout from Burnham Dr. NW were among the few to employ a turn signal on Thursday.
Drivers like the one at left entering this north Gig Harbor roundabout from Burnham Dr. NW were among the few to employ a turn signal on Thursday. dperine@thenewstribune.com

Q: What is the proper use of one’s turn signal in a roundabout? Is there a different use in a two-lane versus a one-lane roundabout? — Howard S., Gig Harbor

A: Oh, Howard.

You could have just as easily asked us the proper way to win a woman’s heart or to fold a fitted sheet, two of life’s mysteries that have vexed us here at Traffic Q&A headquarters for decades.

And don’t get us started on whether you should leave a tip when picking up takeout!

Yet, Howard’s question is one that needs answering, because, as he pointed out in his missive, roundabouts are proliferating. Howard navigates them frequently in the north end of Gig Harbor, where, he says, signaling can be inconsistent at best.

“My unscientific survey reveals most people never signal as they don’t know when it should be used,” Howard wrote. “I personally signal only when I am about to exit the roundabout.

“I am hopeful with your column you can educate more on the proper use of turn signals in roundabouts.”

Never one to shirk a challenge (aside from fitted sheets; we just ball those suckers up and cram them in the back of the linen closet), we began our quest for answers.

First stop, the Washington Driver Guide, which contains a section titled, aptly, “Roundabouts.” It offers the following instruction:

“1. Slow down as you approach the intersection; roundabouts are designed for speeds of 15-20 mph.

“2. Enter the roundabout where there is a gap in traffic. Once inside, do not stop. Follow directions on signs or pavement markings about which lane to use.

“3. You may exit at any street or continue around if you miss your exit.”

That’s it. No mention of signaling.

So, on to a handy webpage administered by the state Department of Transportation titled, “How to drive a roundabout.”

The page offers many tips and includes some illustrative videos.

It includes this passage in a section titled, “Driving single-lane roundabouts”:

“Once you see a gap in traffic, enter the circle and proceed to your exit. If there is no traffic in the roundabout, you may enter without yielding. Look for pedestrians and use your turn signal before you exit (emphasis added), and make sure to stay in your lane as you navigate the roundabout.”

Another section titled, “Driving multi-lane roundabouts,” encourages drivers to pick their lane before entering. It continues:

“At the dashed yield line, look to your left and yield to drivers already in the roundabout. Remember, in a multi-lane roundabout, you must yield to both lanes of traffic. Once a gap in traffic appears, merge into the roundabout and proceed to your exit. Look for pedestrians and use your turn signal before you exit.” (emphasis added)

OK, now we’re getting somewhere. Signaling before exiting always seems like a good idea to us.

Finally, we sought guidance from Gig Harbor Police Chief Kelly Busey.

“This is a question we receive frequently, and it gets confusing,” Busey said. “Some police officers even disagree on the interpretation at times. The law is vague.”

That law, by the way, is RCW 46.61.305, titled, “When signals required — Improper use prohibited.”

The first two sections give the gist:

“(1) No person shall turn a vehicle or move right or left upon a roadway unless and until such movement can be made with reasonable safety nor without giving an appropriate signal …

“(2) A signal of intention to turn or move right or left when required shall be given continuously during not less than the last one hundred feet traveled by the vehicle before turning.”

Said Busey:

“Since roundabouts are marked as individual lanes, and a car is not technically changing lanes when continuing within or exiting a roundabout, a turn signal is apparently not required.”

He continued:

“Since most roundabout exits are within 100 feet of each other, the ability to comply with this (part of the law) is impossible.”

Oh, boy. So what’s a driver to do?

Here is the chief’s advice:

“There are two important strategies you should employ when navigating a roundabout. First, select your lane before you enter the circle. There are usually signs that indicate which lane will channel you to your desired exit from the roundabout.

“Second, do not cross over a solid white line. A dashed line means that it is legal to cross, but it is the driver’s obligation to ensure that this change can be made safely. In that instance, turn signal use would technically be required.

“The bottom line is that turn signals are not required within a roundabout, but they are a good idea and serve as a courtesy to other drivers entering the circle.”

And couldn’t we all use a little more courtesy out on the roads?

Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644, @TNTAdam