Roundabouts are great for engineers and planners. They are less expensive than four-way intersection stops and traffic signals. They keep the flow of traffic going, reducing fuel expenses. Many claim that roundabouts are safer. Others believe that roundabouts are unsafe. To many drivers, they are unfamiliar and confusing: as a result, accidents can be caused when drivers are unable to navigate them.
Studies offer evidence for the benefits of roundabouts. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study shows roundabouts are safer than intersections that previously had stop signs and signals. Roundabouts reduced crashes with injuries by an amazing 75%. Overall collisions were reduced by 37%, fatality collisions by 90% and pedestrian collisions by 40%.
How did these studies explain these conclusions? First, roundabouts cause drivers to reduce speed by design. When approaching a roundabout, a driver must slow down before entering. Further, roundabouts do not have a light to beat. Roundabouts reduce drivers’ motivation to increase speed to make it through the intersection. Finally, roundabouts are a one-way direction of travel, removing all risks of T-bone and head-on collisions.
Like anything else, however, roundabouts have their downside – or should we say, their ‘blind spots’. In the United States roundabouts are rare. As a result, motorists are not familiar with safely navigating roundabouts. Another argument against the safety of roundabouts is that they aren’t pedestrian or cyclist friendly. While roundabouts may improve efficiency for motor vehicles, they can leave pedestrians standing there, or worse. With the constant flow of moving traffic, roundabouts are less likely to allow pedestrians to cross as they would an intersection.
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