07/25/2014 09:23 am ET Updated Sep 24, 2014

Does this Traffic Pattern Make Your Head Spin?

There are few traffic patterns in America as divisive as the roundabout. While some cities cannot get enough of them--Carmel, Indiana for example, is internationally known for its over 80 roundabouts--residents of other towns greet them with protest.

Roundabouts have been shown to make roadways safer and less congested but are often criticized for being more expensive and taking up more land than traditional intersections. Love them or hate them, it looks like roundabouts are here to stay. Since the first modern roundabout was built in the United States in 1990, over 3,700 have been constructed throughout the country. Some states like New York and Virginia have even adopted "roundabouts first" policies.

Despite their safety benefits, it turns out a lot of drivers feel just like Clark Griswold in National Lampoon's European Vacation going around and around that traffic circle in London.

Earlier this summer, AARP Driver Safety surveyed hundreds of its most experienced volunteer Instructors to identify what traffic scenarios older drivers were most uncomfortable with. The results found that over 50 percent of older drivers who take the AARP Smart Driver course struggle with how to navigate roundabouts.

And yet, according to The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, older drivers are the demographic most likely to benefit from roundabouts - when they know how to navigate them properly. Relative to other age groups, older drivers are more likely to be involved in serious crashes occurring at four-way intersections, often for failure to properly yield. Since all traffic flows in the same direction, and more slowly in roundabouts, crashes are usually less severe.

Do roundabouts make your head spin? Here are some safety strategies from the AARP Smart Driver curriculum to help you navigate them:

  1. Know who has the right-of-way. Vehicles currently traveling in the circle of the roundabout have the right-of-way and those entering the traffic circle should yield to them. A video about how to navigate a roundabout is available here.
  2. Know your lane. If there are multiple lanes, observe the signs and pavement markings to determine which lane to use BEFORE entering the roundabout.
  3. Think: left lane, left turn, right lane, right turn. Generally, left turns should be made from the left lane or lanes that are marked as left turn lanes. Follow the same rule for right turns, but using the right lane or the lane that is designated for right turns.
  4. Slow down. One of the primary safety features of a roundabout is that it forces drivers to slow down to around 15 to 25 mph.
  5. Yield for pedestrians, bicyclists, and traffic on your left.
  6. Never pass trucks. Give large vehicles extra space to negotiate a roundabout.
  7. Mind the gap. Only enter the roundabout when there is a safe gap in the traffic.
  8. Use your signal. Always remember to use your right turn signal when approaching your intended exit.

What traffic scenarios do you find challenging? Consider taking the AARP Smart Driver refresher course to learn more strategies for handling difficult scenarios and brushing up on the current rules of the road.