Roundabouts and you … it’s a tricky situation

September 20th, 2017

Roundabouts are one place in Australia’s road environment where the desire to enable the free flow of traffic comes into conflict with the safety of bike riders, and the consequences can be severe.

The biggest problem is found in the Australian road rules governing multi-lane roundabouts. Frankly, it’s a minefield.

But before we dive into the deep and murky waters of the multi-lane roundabout, let’s start by considering the common single-lane roundabout. That should be easy enough, right?

The rules for bike riders and for motorists on single-lane roundabouts are the same:

• Give way to traffic that’s already on the roundabout
• Indicate your intentions as you enter the roundabout

Giving way to traffic that’s already on the roundabout is simple, both for motorists and bike riders.

But most motorists don’t understand indicating on roundabouts. In a January 2017 survey by RACQ, 60% of those respondents did not know the correct signals when approaching and leaving a roundabout. (Hint: if you’re going left at a roundabout, you should indicate left. If you’re going right, indicate right! If going straight, no indication needed.)

But where should bike riders position themselves when approaching a roundabout?
Most of us ride on the left edge of the road. When it comes to a roundabout, this is the most vulnerable and least safe place to be.
Consider this possibility. If you are entering a roundabout to turn right and you’re riding on the left edge of the traffic lane, you will have to cross two roundabout exits before you get to yours. That’s two chances for a motorist to not see you.

“SMIDSY (Sorry mate I didn’t see you),” the motorist will say, as a bystander dials 000.
Australian road rules specifically allow bike riders to ‘take the lane’ on the approach to a roundabout. You don’t have to, but for those riders assertive or confident enough to do so, riding in the middle of the lane removes the possibility of a car cutting you off with a left turn.

So let’s look at multi-lane roundabouts. A bike rider in the typical left-edge-of-the-road position is in an even more vulnerable position on a multi-lane roundabout.

According to the NSW Department for Roads and Maritime Services’ website, “Bicycle riders are allowed to turn right from the left hand lane. When passing each exit, the rider must give way to any vehicle leaving the roundabout from that exit.”

Did you get that? A bike rider already riding around the roundabout has to give way to the traffic that is leaving the roundabout!

The Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) tries to explain this incredible idea with a diagram. See if you can follow it.

“Bicycle rider must give way to the red car that is exiting the roundabout. The driver of the blue car must give way to the bicycle rider ahead of them before exiting the roundabout.”

So to attempt a simplification: if you’re well ahead of a following car you’re fine to keep going around the roundabout, but if you and a car are level, then you have to slow down and let them exit.

Where does that leave you, the bike rider, who has now lost all momentum in the middle of the multi-tool-lane roundabout? In a highly vulnerable position, that’s where.

Some local authorities have been trying to design safer roundabouts for bike riders.

Below is Sunshine Coast regional council’s attempt, which gives bike riders turning left their own lane, and also gives bike riders turning right their own entrance point to the roundabout.

But once you enter the roundabout, the lane markings disappear and you are on your own.

So what is the safest approach for bike riders on a multi-lane roundabout?

It can be difficult, and it can also draw the ire of impatient motorists, but taking the lane, even the right lane, gives you the highest visibility and therefore it’s the safest way to enter the roundabout.

But this can be nearly impossible on a large-diameter roundabout, with traffic accelerating up to 60km/h.

What do the authorities say?

Queensland TMR’s best attempt:

“At multi-lane roundabouts, motor vehicle drivers who want to turn right must enter the roundabout and turn from the right lane (unless signs or road markings indicate otherwise). However, when you are riding a bicycle, you may enter the roundabout and turn right from the left or right lane.

“It is important that all road users maintain a safe distance behind the vehicle in front to be able to stop safely, if necessary, to avoid a collision. If you choose to turn right from the left lane, you must give way to any motor vehicle that wants to leave the roundabout. If you are already on the roundabout and a motor vehicle is entering they should give way to you.”

Nice use of ‘should’.

Want to know more?

1. Queensland Department for Transport and Main Roads info.

2. NSW Road & Maritime Services.

3. Vicroads animated video on Youtube:

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