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Roundabouts are far safer than traditional intersections

May 5, 2012
By DAVE WERNER ( , Franklin County Traffic Safety Board

Roundabouts are vastly safer than traditional intersections. Don't like them? You will once you get used to them.

Information from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shows just how much safer roundabouts are compared with intersections controlled by traffic signals or stop signs. Also, because they keep traffic moving, they handle more vehicles at once than traditional intersections can, saving fuel, time, and driver aggravation.

Modern roundabouts virtually eliminate the most serious kinds of crashes that occur at traditional intersections. When crashes do occur, they tend to be minor, mostly just involving property damage. At traditional intersections, T-bone crashes are common, often involving serious injury or fatalities. Where roundabouts have replaced traditional intersections, crashes have declined about 40%, and those involving injuries have been reduced by about 80%, according to the report from the IIHS.

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Roundabouts feature a raised center island that vehicles travel around in a counterclockwise pattern. Entering traffic yields the right of way to vehicles already in the roundabout. The center island and the tight radius of entrances and exits help to reduce travel speeds to about 15-20 mph in urban areas and 30-35 on rural roads. Slower speeds help vehicles merge more easily and reduce the severity of the crashes that do occur.

Although there is only one roundabout in the North Country (Plattsburgh at U.S. Avenue and New York Road), more than 3,000 roundabouts have been built in the US and many more are planned or under construction. They are even more prevalent in other countries.

In Carmel, Indiana, a city of about 70,000, they have around 55 roundabouts, more than any other US city. Carmel's first roundabout opened in 1997. People were skeptical at first change is scary to people. However, today, Carmel's residents are largely pleased with their roundabouts.

Not to be confused with the old "traffic circles", modern roundabouts are much different is design to achieve safety. Nevertheless, to drivers not accustomed to roundabouts, it can be somewhat confusing, especially if there are multiple lanes, such as is the case in a relatively new roundabout in Kingston.

Here are some things regarding roundabouts that motorists should be aware of:

When approaching a roundabout, slow down. For multiple-lane roundabouts, look for roadside signs and pavement markings to guide you into the appropriate lane. It is important to be in the correct lane prior to entering the roundabout.

Always stay to the right of the splitter island (either painted or raised). These are used to divide directional traffic on the approach to the roundabout.

Be cautious of pedestrians as you approach the crosswalk.

As you approach the yield line, look to your left before entering the roundabout. Vehicles within the roundabout have the right-of-way. Enter the roundabout and merge into the traffic flow once an adequate gap is available.

All movement in the roundabout circulates counterclockwise. Never turn left into the roundabout from the yield line.

When traveling within the roundabout, only stop to avoid a collision. You have the right-of-way over entering traffic.

When approaching the roundabout, avoid traveling at a speed greater than the posted advisory speed.

When circulating within a multilane roundabout, avoid changing lanes.

Avoid passing or driving adjacent to larger vehicles within a roundabout - they often need more than one lane to circulate the roundabout.

If you encounter a cyclist traveling within the roundabout, use caution, be courteous, and share the road.

Continue through the roundabout until you reach your exit. Use your right turn signal when exiting.

As you exit the roundabout, be aware of pedestrians crossing your exit roadway.


This and all previous Did You Know articles may be found on the Franklin County website at Select Traffic Safety Board from the pull-down list of departments.



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