U: The Unknown
I knew one of the two roundabout scenarios would happen sooner or later: My car would be sideswiped or I would get pulled over by a police officer for not following roundabout rules.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the roundabout — when everyone plays by the rules. My first roundabout driving experience I recall was in London, 11 years ago. Prior to that I had ridden via bus/taxi around my fair share in Europe in college – either I was oblivious to any issues or there were none — after all they’re everywhere and familiar to drivers. Why no one warned us Americans not to rent a car to drive from the heart of London out into greater England, I’ll never know. With five lanes and seven potential exits per roundabout, it was every husband and wife’s nightmare. He as the driver on the right side of the car (which felt very wrong), and me as the map-reader in a pre-GPS world, was a true test of our relationship.
When the first roundabout popped up in 2008 at Portland and 66th in Richfield, MN, just south of our home, I was wary. European drivers so skillfully maneuvered these, but in Minnesota? I anticipated a lot of accidents and a learning curve. A quick read of this Star Tribune article from 2011 notes 29,000 vehicles pass through it daily and between Jan-Aug 2011, there were nine accidents in the roundabout. The officer who pulled me over for a roundabout violation would only say, “I’d much rather respond to fender benders and these type of accidents than head-on collisions.”
“I would prefer to keep my family and my car intact,” I reasoned with officer Zuarez*, hoping he could see my point. The kids were taking in the conversation from the backseat. When we were pulled over, I explained to them that I was not going to get into my roundabout issues with the officer. That did not pan out. I let the officer know how ironic it was that he witnessed my illegal lane change from the internal lane to the external lane. Ninety-nine percent of the time I enter on the external lane, cross my fingers and exit from the external lane no issues. In this particular 1% incident, I entered on the internal lane, checked my blind spot, signaled and moved to the external lane before continuing onto 66th. Wrong move.
“What if everyone did what you did?” said the officer. “I was merely defensive driving,” I pleaded, gesturing wildly to show where I would potentially be hit if I was on the internal lane trying to exit the roundabout. No sale. He was not budging. “Follow the signs, use both lanes and yield to both lanes – that’s your best bet,” he advised. Well that’s reassuring! I thought.
I tried once more to get him to pay some valid attention to my reenactment of a potential sideswipe. I’m seriously laughing at this point. I think he smiled briefly at my attempt. Anyway, he let me off without a ticket.
The kids and I went merrily on our way. Calvin, my 8-year-old, noted that I did not handle that how I said I would. Ava, my 10-year-old just rolled her eyes.
Calvin wanted a diagram. What in heaven’s name was Mom trying to explain to the officer? I got out the paper, ruler and some round objects to create my crude diagram of the intersection. Then I remembered seeing these four tiny cars each about the size of a fingernail somewhere in the house – - perfect reuse. So we went through the scenarios – my lane change and accident potential. Calvin fully validated that my maneuver was warranted.
What’s your roundabout experience? Good, bad or indifferent?