Are Roundabouts Safer?

If you’ve driven through a new development recently, you may have seen an interesting alternative to the three- or four-way stop: the roundabout. A popular fixture in many European cities, the roundabout has increased in popularity as a traffic-controlling safety design. But are roundabouts safer than stop signs or other guided intersections? 

Today, we’re taking a closer look at how roundabouts work and just how much of a safety measure they truly are.

What Is a Roundabout?

A roundabout is a circle of lanes at an intersection. When cars stop at the intersection of two roads, they drive in a circle instead of stopping at a sign or light. Roundabouts are intended to limit the chances of a collision at dangerous intersections by eliminating the chances of a driver running a red light or otherwise failing to yield.

Roundabouts also slow down traffic, as each car must slow its speed to go around the turn. Drivers enter the roundabout from their initial street, drive in the circle, and then exit at the street they wish to go on. 

They’re useful in places like a blind hill, where a traditional intersection may cause drivers to have to slam on their brakes at a red light or unanticipated stop sign.

Pros of a Roundabout

Vehicles move smoothly through the roundabout, reducing traffic congestion. Bike riders and vehicle drivers alike can use a roundabout. So are roundabouts safer for pedestrians and cyclists? Yes!  

Thousands of citations are issued each year for failures to yield, such as running a stop sign or a red light. Failure to yield also causes many collisions. Eliminating the opportunity for drivers to run a stop sign or red light can reduce the number of accidents at otherwise dangerous intersections. 

Reducing accidents is the chief reason that many communities are adopting roundabouts instead of guided intersections, especially in residential areas where children may be playing.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety indicates that roundabouts have contributed to a significant decrease in the number of intersection collisions, especially those resulting in serious injuries. 

The construction of roundabouts makes deadly collisions like head-on or T-bone collisions unlikely, and collisions that do occur are usually minor due to the slow speed of the vehicles in the roundabout.

Roundabouts also have a “safety center” for pedestrians, providing them with safe places to cross busy intersections.

Reducing accidents isn’t the only reduction of danger that a roundabout contributes to. The idling and starts and stops of vehicles at guided intersections increase gas emissions in the vehicles. Roundabouts don’t require vehicles to stop, so the gas emissions are lessened, helping the environment. 

Drawbacks of Roundabouts

The construction of roundabouts, where drivers each yield to the traffic already in the roundabout, can contribute to a few safety risks, such as:

Driver Uncertainty

Drivers unused to the flow of traffic in a roundabout may be uncertain when they can enter and how to yield properly. Some drivers believe that they have to stop before entering the roundabout, like at a stop sign, instead of carefully entering when a space opens up. 

Other drivers may not understand which direction to drive, causing wrong-way collisions. As roundabouts become more common and drivers learn to yield to ingoing and outgoing traffic in roundabouts, the accidents should decrease.

Multiple Merge Points

The more merge points in a roundabout and the more traffic coming from multiple lanes, the greater the chance of a collision. Some drivers may change lanes in a multi-lane roundabout, adding to the confusion.

Driver Speed

Although roundabouts are intended to slow drivers down, many drivers may still enter the space too fast, which can cause them to hit other vehicles. Or, their high, reckless speeds may cause other drivers to take evasive actions.

“Cutting” the Roundabout

Some drivers may opt to turn left in a roundabout at a smaller intersection instead of going around the circle. The few seconds saved could easily cause a wreck.

So Are Roundabouts Safer? Defensive Driving Can Protect You 

As roundabouts increase in numbers, the chances you’ll be driving in one grow. Watching carefully to safely enter, yielding as per traffic rules, and not stopping once you’re in a roundabout can help you avoid a collision. 

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