The only difference that I am aware of is that in the U.S. and in the U.K. the vehicle in the roundabout has the right of way. If you are pulling into a roundabout and someone is coming, you have to stop and wait for them.
Continental roundabouts, or at least those in France, are backwards from that. The vehicle entering the roundabout has the right of way.
One thing of course for UK & Irish roundabouts is you travel clockwise, having entered from the left lane.
Another fairly unique roundabout is the “Magic Roundabout” in Swindon (there are a few others elsewhere) that is a swirl of smaller roundabouts which themselves can each be navigated (one to another) both counter- (anti) or clockwise.
I believe France changed, and it used to be that cars entering have priority. Or perhaps there were always both types, I’m not sure. Their helicopter rotors rotate a different way to everyone else, so what can you expect?
I’m not sure if the “old” type still exist in significant numbers, I haven’t driven there in many years. But the notorious Arc de Triomphe roundabout is still like that.
One thing I noticed recently while driving in Southern Spain is that the road markings leading up to roundabouts were different from what we have in the UK.
If you have a two-lane carriageway approaching a roundabout in the UK, there will normally be arrows painted on the road, indicating which lane you should occupy, depending on your intended exit direction from the roundabout. Example here: Google Maps
In Spain, the convention appears to be that the arrows merely indicate your direction of circulation upon the roundabout - that is, they all point to the right. Example here: Google Maps
I rented a car in Bucharest, Romania in 1999 and my recollection of driving in a roundabout was the cars trying to enter would slowly creep into the roundabout till a vehicle in the roundabout had to slow down to avoid colliding and so kind of gave way / yielded and then those cars would take their turn and so forth.
(I was there for the Solar Eclipse and decided by the day it happened that I was not going to be driving by myself outside the city and joined up with some college guys who also spoke English and we ended up flying (in a taxi) outside the increasing clouds down some road towards Constanta at 120 kph. But that’s another story.)
It was formerly the case that French roundabouts gave priority to the driver entering, and cars already in the roundabout had to yield. They did not choose this deliberately; it’s a side effect of the more general rule, in France and elsewhere, where you yield to cars on the right except where otherwise marked.
This is one of the more counter intuitive rules in European driving for Americans trying to adapt; imagine you’re going along what feels like a main road, and you see there’s a side road ahead, meeting the road you’re on, connecting in from the right. In the States, a car entering from that side road waits for cars passing on the main road. But in France, you on the main road have to yield to that car entering from the right side (unless, again, that side road is explicitly posted with yield markers).
Now if you imagine yourself transiting a traffic circle, a car entering ahead of you is on your right. So, by rule, that car has priority. The French accepted this, in that peculiarly French way where they enforce consistency when it doesn’t actually make sense. The rest of Europe recognized the sensible exception and gave cars in the circle the right of way.
Eventually, the French were dragged grumbling into seeing reason, and they started changing the laws. But there are still a few places where the old rule governs, most famously the traffic circle surrounding the Arc de Triomphe.
The fact that Americans find this at all funny is really just painfully parochial. The way foreigners do things is strange, confusingly hilarious, and obviously inferior, right? In my experience of driving in both countries for many years, America has far more terrible drivers and poorly designed junctions.
Well, as an American, I don’t take it that way – the Chevy Chase character, Clark Griswold, is consistently portrayed as a clueless idiot, and this is demonstrated by the fact that he can’t figure out how to get out of a roundabout.
This is actually the case in America as well. Old style rotaries and traffic circles*, most commonly found in New England and built in the pre-WWII era were yield to the right. When they realized it caused gridlock (circlelock?) they changed the yield rule. Same for merge lanes onto highways, or slip roads at intersections. Yield to the right was the standard from a century ago, but since it works just about nowhere, the only instance remains (that I can think of) is at uncontrolled intersections or when two or more vehicles arrive at a 4-way stop at the same time. In that case it’s advantageous to yield to the right because it clears the intersection faster (something I’ll admit I never thought about or realized).
*Many of those old rotaries and traffic circles may have changed their rules of right-of-way, but in low-traffic residential areas I think there’s a few with the old rules still in place. Many retain their original poor geometries (very large diameter circle, high speeds, poor sight lines, fast entry roads without deflection), so they are usually specifically distinguished from “modern roundabouts” that utilize British and European models and started being installed here in the 1990s.
It’s not the direction of travel and not who yields at the approaches. It’s something more subtle than those obvious things. I tried googling it before posting this and found a something that might be it (can’t find the page anymore). It was that approaches to English roundabouts split into two or more lanes just before entering the circle, even though there weren’t lanes in the circle itself. I don’t think this is the difference because it’d only be on the larger roundabouts, the one’s large enough for multiple lanes in the US. And most roundabouts seem to be single laners.
As far as the rule about who yields, when rotaries (really big traffic circles) were first built in the 1930s, they did not have any control signage about who had right-of-way. In fact, the Yield Sign had not even been invented yet. But when they did put up control signage (Yield Sign invented about 1950), they usually gave priority to two approaches and traffic in the circle had to yield to them. I think somewhere in Eastern Europe (Serbia?) has a yield to entering traffic rule, but I haven’t heard of any other country having that rule. Well except for old circles that are grandfathered in, such as the Place Charles de Gaulle (formerly Place de l’Étoile, at the Arc de Triomphe).
Anyway, circular intersections fell out of favor in the 1950s in North America because of the gridlock that can happen due to the Yield-to-incoming-traffic rule. Then the modern roundabout was invented in 1966 in England, but they were still out of favor in the US. France seemed to have gone crazy for them starting in the 80s, but none were built in the US until 1990. And they didn’t start to get built in significant numbers until about 2003-4. So Europe has a 30-year or more head start.
Anyway, as I said, it’s not the Yield rule, it’s something more subtle.