Roundabouts, rotaries, or traffic circles as they are called in other parts, are increasingly being constructed at U.S. intersections and are quickly becoming a major part of the American landscape, including here in Brown Deer. Twenty-five years ago, the U.S. tallied about 300 roundabouts nationwide. Now, the United States has about 9,000.
Wisconsin has fully embraced the roundabout concept. Our state has 495 roundabouts, behind only Florida, Indiana, and Washington in total number. Wisconsin ranks 2nd in the number of roundabouts per person, with Nebraska at Number 1, and ranks 8th in the number of roundabouts per mile, just behind Hawaii and ahead of North Carolina.
Vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians can all benefit from roundabouts. Vehicles can keep moving through traffic, reducing commute time, and easing driver aggravation. Also, the starts and stops and idling at traditional traffic intersections cause vehicles to emit more gas and diesel so roundabouts are more environmentally friendly. Roundabouts also always have a center island, which can be a place of refuge for pedestrians. This provides a place of safety when crossing a busy intersection.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, roundabouts have been shown to significantly decrease the number of crashes, particularly those with serious injuries. Roundabouts make violent and deadly T-bone and head-on collisions unlikely. The collisions that do occur tend to be minor.
Although roundabouts reduce the number of traffic accidents overall, many Americans are still unfamiliar with these types of intersections, and a lot of motorists have difficulty navigating them. In a roundabout, drivers are to yield at entry to traffic from the left, then enter the intersection and exit at their desired street.
Common Reasons for Collisions at Roundabout Intersections
Accidents at roundabouts usually happen because of reckless driving, a lack of understanding of the rules for navigating a roundabout intersection, and similar factors. Some of the main reasons that roundabout accidents occur include:
- Speeding: At most roundabouts, the speed limit is no higher than 20 mph. There is a good reason why drivers need to slow down when they enter a roundabout intersection – because they need time to adjust to vehicles that are coming from the other direction. While roundabouts force drivers to slow down, many drivers still enter and proceed through them at too high a velocity, imperiling others.
- Failure to Yield: One of the things that make roundabouts different from other types of intersections is that they serve as a continuous traffic loop without any stop signs or traffic signals. Because of this, it is up to drivers to understand when it is their turn to go and when they are supposed to yield to other vehicles. In a roundabout, drivers are supposed to yield to vehicles coming from their left, and if they try to jump in front of them, it greatly increases the chances of a collision. When approaching a roundabout, drivers are to yield to traffic already in them. However, some drivers believe you must stop completely at roundabouts while others may not know who must yield the right of away, dangerously entering the intersection into oncoming traffic. This is particularly true with drivers unfamiliar with roundabouts. As drivers become more familiar with roundabouts, the level of safety at intersections improves.
- Stopping Abruptly: As mentioned in the previous point, there are no stop signs inside roundabouts, which again means it is up to motorists to know when to slow down and yield to another vehicle, and when to go through the intersection. Failure to yield is one problem that can cause accidents at roundabouts, but at the other end of the spectrum, drivers might stop abruptly when it is their turn to go. This often results in rear-end collisions and could lead to multiple car crashes.
- Cutting roundabout: At smaller intersections, instead of going around them in a counterclockwise manner, some drivers turn left in front of the circles to save time. This endangers other vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
The presence of roundabouts is likely to continue to grow. Local municipalities, including Brown Deer, and the state Department of Transportation are always looking for ways to ease road congestion, improve safety, and lower maintenance and operational costs.
There are things you can do to stay safe in roundabouts such as avoiding lane changes, avoid passing other vehicles when there are multiple lanes, not stopping once in the traffic flow except for accident avoidance, using turn signals, and being cautious of bicyclists and pedestrians in the intersection. This can help make traffic circles safer for all.