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Roundabouts Safer Than Normal Intersections, And Becoming More Popular

By Aaron Crowe 

The roundabouts of Europe may look like a driver’s nightmare with cars going every direction, and they’ve driven the Griswold family loopy in National Lampoon’s “European Vacation.”

Plant a few of those in America and the odd-looking circles might confuse too many people and lead to more accidents. Or, so says conventional wisdom.

As more roundabouts gain acceptance in the United States, drivers are learning the rules of driving in them and they’re leading to fewer accidents. 

In Washington state, the city of Lynden is building two roundabouts to help reduce serious crashes on streets leading to a highway. In 2009 it removed a traffic signal and replaced it with a roundabout, decreasing traffic delays. The state has about 245 roundabouts.

Along with slowing drivers down, roundabouts reduce the likelihood of rear-end crashes and their severity by removing the incentive for drivers to speed up as they approach green lights and reducing abrupt stops at red lights, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. They also eliminate T-bone and head-on collisions that are common at traffic lights.

The IIHS found in a 2001 study that converting intersections from traffic signals or stop signs to roundabouts reduced injury crashes by 80% and all crashes by 40%.

Roundabouts are becoming more popular in the United States, with 23 states having active programs, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation. They increase efficient traffic flow by up to 50%, reduce carbon emissions, and reduce fuel consumption, the state says.

They’re not as difficult to use as you’d think, with multi-lane roundabouts easy to use if drivers stay in their lane and yield to cars in the roundabout. The key is to drive slowly and not stop in the roundabout, and to be a defensive driver and yield to cars moving in the roundabout.

Only enter a roundabout when a traffic gap appears, and be sure to yield to both lanes of traffic if you’re in a multi-lane roundabout.

As more roundabouts are built in the U.S., such as in Ohio, more people may question spending money on something that isn’t as straight forward as a stop sign or traffic signal. A circle, however, may be the simplest way to drive through an intersection without getting in an accident.