Popular in Europe, roundabouts or “traffic circles” as they are called in other parts are increasingly being constructed at U.S. intersections. They help keep traffic flowing without the starts and stops that occur at intersections with stop signs or blinking red lights. This results in greater traffic capacity that helps ease our roadways.
Roundabouts also help limit the more dangerous aspects of traffic light intersections such as drivers that run red lights or failed to yield on left hand turns. But are roundabouts really safer?
The Pros of Roundabouts
Vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians can all benefit from roundabouts. Vehicles can keep moving through traffic reducing commute time and easing driver aggravation. Also, the starts and stops and idling at traditional traffic intersections cause vehicles emit more gas and diesel so roundabouts are more environmentally friendly.
Tens of thousands of traffic tickets are handed out each year in the U.S. for failing to yield at a stop sign or running a red light. In addition to fuel and vehicle maintenance savings, there are typically also less traffic tickets handed out at roundabouts than conventional intersections and this helps drivers save in the form of paying less fines and reducing auto insurance premium increases.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, roundabouts have been shown to significantly decrease the number of crash, particularly those with serious injuries. Roundabouts make violent and deadly T-bone and head-on collisions unlikely. The collisions that do occur tend to be minor.
Roundabouts always have a center island, which can be a place of refuge for pedestrians. This provides a place of safety when crossing a busy intersection.
The Cons of Roundabouts
In a roundabout, drivers are to yield at entry to traffic, then enter the intersection and exit at their desired street.
Five safety risks at roundabouts include:
1. Driver uncertainty about yielding. When approaching a roundabout, drivers are to yield to traffic already in them. However, some drivers believe you have to stop completely at roundabouts while others may not know who has to yield the right of away, dangerously entering the intersection into oncoming traffic.
This is particularly true with drivers unfamiliar with roundabouts. As drivers become more familiar with roundabouts, the level of safety at intersections can improve.
2. Too many merge points, especially in roundabouts with more than four streets and multi-lanes. The more traffic coming onto a roundabout, the greater the risk of collisions. There are also drivers that change lanes in multi-land roundabouts which adds to the danger. This impacts pedestrians and bicyclists as well.
3. Driver speed. While roundabouts to force drivers to slow down, many drivers still enter and proceed through them at too high a velocity imperiling others.
4. Drivers may try to ‘cut’ the roundabout. At smaller intersections, instead of going around them in a counterclockwise manner, some drivers turn left in front of the circles to save time. This endangers other vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
5. Shoulder lane for bicyclists and pedestrians can be narrow, if existent at all. Roundabouts need more space than traditional intersections and this lack of a defined shoulder can put others in peril.
What’s the Future Hold?
The presence of roundabouts is likely to continue to grow. Municipalities are always looking for ways to ease road congestion and lower maintenance and operational costs. Studies also show many other benefits in having roundabouts at intersections.
There are things you can do to stay safe in roundabouts such as avoiding lane changes, avoid passing other vehicle when there are multiple lanes, not stopping once in the traffic flow except for accident avoidance, using turn signals, and being cautious of bicyclists and pedestrians in the intersection. This can help make traffic circles safer for all.