The Truth About Roundabouts: They Promote Safe Driving

The Truth About Roundabouts: They Promote Safe Driving

Many drivers see roundabouts as a heart-pounding traffic obstacle. However, roundabouts have proven to be a more efficient and safer way for cars to navigate intersections.

Roundabouts, sometimes known as traffic circles, are a type of circular intersection commonly associated with driving in Europe — according to the Washington Post one in every 45 intersections in France is a roundabout — than the U.S, where that number is about one in every 1,100. In a roundabout, as opposed to a traditional intersection with a stop sign or traffic light, vehicles enter a road traveling counterclockwise around a raised, circular island.

Because they are uncommon and thanks to their mischaracterization in popular comedy films and television programs, such as European Vacation and The Simpsons, the perception of U.S. drivers is that the roundabout is a trap designed for comic effect, instead of the reality — it makes driving more efficient and safer.

A Safer Intersection

There are about 3,700 traffic circles throughout the U.S., and, according to the findings of a joint Federal Highway Administration and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study roundabouts reduced fatal collisions by 90% and injury collisions by 75%. The study lists three primary reasons circular intersections reduced the severity of crashes:

  1. Lower travel speeds — Roundabouts force drivers to slow down before entering the circle. Traffic typically moves at 15 to 25 mph, so any collisions that occur are more likely to be minor and non-life threatening.
  2. One-way travel — Traffic circles always have traffic traveling in a single direction, preventing head-on and T-bone collisions — which tend to result in a high percentage of injuries and fatalities.
  3. No traffic lights — Roundabouts keep traffic flowing without completely stopping. Because vehicles don’t need to come to a complete stop before entering an intersection, there is no incentive to speed up to reach the intersection and “beat” a light before it changes. Instead, a roundabout forces drivers to yield to other vehicles before entering the circle.

How to Safely Drive Through a Roundabout

While roundabouts are proven to be safer than standard intersections with stoplights, their rarity in the U.S. means that drivers may be intimidated when they have to navigate through them. The Washington State Department of Transportation offers drivers a few commonsense tips to safely navigate traffic circles:

  • Yield to drivers who are already in the roundabout. Because roundabouts do not feature stop signs or traffic lights, it is up to the driver to determine when it is safe to enter. A slow, consistent flow of traffic means that drivers must yield to oncoming traffic to proceed safely. If there is no traffic flowing through a roundabout, then drivers can enter the roundabout without stopping.
  • Stay in your lane. Entering a roundabout in a specific lane determines what direction a driver is planning on going through. Vehicles driving in the right lane indicate that they are turning right, while vehicles in the left lane plan on turning left or making a U-turn. Either lane can be used to go straight.
  • Keep a safe distance around trucks and other large vehicles. Driving directly behind or next to a larger vehicle can be dangerous, since it may need to use both roundabout lanes because of the vehicle’s wider turning radius. Stay alert if, because of traffic conditions, you must drive near a large delivery or service truck.
  • Do not stop when you’re in a roundabout. Roundabouts are designed for a continual flow of traffic. If you have to stop for any reason, including for approaching emergency vehicles or if you’ve gotten into an accident, proceed through the roundabout and pull over to the side of the road after you exit.
  • Pay close attention to signs. Signs near roundabouts can indicate pedestrian crossings or bike lanes. Keep an eye out to make sure that you stop for those who aren’t driving.

Driving through roundabouts is proven to be safer than traditional intersections, but an intersection is only as safe as the people passing through it. By not being intimidated and properly driving through a roundabout, you can help contribute to a safer environment for drivers and pedestrians.

Drive Safely!

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