I apologize for not alerting you to this before it started -- this week is National Roundabouts Week.

Or, as we know them, traffic circles.

Well, maybe not.

Apparently, a traffic circle and a roundabout are two different things. More on that in a minute.

But this is a week to celebrate traffi-- er, roundabouts. An efficient way for traffic to intersect in such a way that the risk of accidents drops significantly compared to a regular intersection.

Now, not only did I not know this is National Roundabouts Week, but I thought a roundabout and a traffic circle were the same thing, just different terminology used by people in different parts of the country. Alas, I was horribly mistaken and I have been living a lie for the past 40 years.

A roundabout, as defined by the State of New Jersey is a, "one-way, circular intersection in which traffic flows around a center island. Roundabouts are designed to meet the needs of all road users – drivers, pedestrians, pedestrians with disabilities, and bicyclists."

Roundabout in Blackwood, NJ - Photo: Google Maps

So, what is a traffic circle, you ask?

A traffic circle is much larger than a roundabout. Traffic circles often have stop signs or traffic signals within the circular intersection. Drivers enter a traffic circle in a straight line and do not have to yield to traffic already in the circle. Traffic circles typically become congested if many vehicles enter at the same time.

Now, I'm confused as many traffic circles here in South Jersey, especially those that either existed in the past (Cardiff Circle) or ones they haven't royally screwed-up (i.e. the circle by Atlantic City International Airport) never had red lights or stop signs...

Google Maps

So, let's see if I can clear-up the difference between a traffic circle and a roundabout by thumbing-through the New Jersey Driver's Manual (which, by the way, starts with "DRIVING IS A PRIVILEGE, NOT A RIGHT" -- thanks for yelling at me on page one).

On page 68 of 244, the section on driving in a traffic circle in New Jersey says,

There are no set rules for driving into, around and out of a traffic circle in New Jersey.

Holy cow -- I found the one and only thing not heavily regulated in New Jersey.

Anyway... we continue:

Common sense and caution must prevail at all times. In most cases, the circle’s historically established traffic flow pattern dictates who has the right-of-way. If a major highway flows into and through the circle, it usually dominates the traffic flow pattern and commands the right-of-way.

So, as I understand it, roundabouts are friendly, modern ways for traffic to flow nicely while every driver sings about happy thoughts compared to a traffic circle where white-knuckled driving abounds as cars from every direction fly in and you are on your own.

At least that's my interpretation.

And, as far as I can tell, there is no National Traffic Circle Week or Day, which is amazing since every day is some type of bizarre holiday, like Take It in the Ear Day on December 8th (dare I ask, take what in the ear?).

So enjoy National Roundabouts Week. Celebrate responsibly... don't get dizzy, I guess.

And I think we should start a campaign to create a National Traffic Circle Day -- which should be on November 28th. That day in 2011 was the last day the old NAFEC/Airport Circle in Pomona didn't have traffic lights. What do you think?