• Feb 23rd 2011 at 2:00PM
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If you've driven in Europe or Latin America -- or even in any one of 30 U.S. states including California, Florida and Michigan -- chances are you've driven around a traffic circle or roundabout.

It's also likely that you considered yourself pretty lucky to survive the lane changes, the strange angle of entry and the rather biting question of who yields to whom. But you'd be wrong. Although roundabouts routinely give drivers fits -- as was famously depicted by the Griswold family in National Lampoon's European Vacation -- statistically they are much safer to negotiate than traditional traffic intersections.

Roundabouts are becoming increasingly common across the U.S. as states and municipalities seek new ways to increase traffic flow while reducing accidents and vehicle emissions. Roundabouts, which are smaller than traditional traffic circles, accomplish all three goals.

Pete Moraga at the Insurance Information Network told AOL Autos: "Roundabouts are big in Latin America and Europe but many people here don't know how to deal with them. The lane changes are a little confusing for people.

"But studies show these reduce common types of crashes like T-bones, that cause a lot of fatalities. With roundabouts, these crashes and rear-end crashes are reduced by the way traffic flows. We support [roundabouts] because we support anything that increases safety and reduces accidents."

While France has more than 20,000 roundabouts, the U.S. has built about 2,000 since the first was constructed in Nevada in 1990, but that number is growing rapidly. The city of Carmel, Indiana, is a case in point. In 2003 the city had 252 injury crashes on its 220 miles of roads. But by 2008 the expanding city had more than 395 miles of roadways while its number of accidents fell to 220. City officials directly attributed the drop in accidents to its roundabout-building initiative. More than two dozen roundabouts were built between 2003 and 2008, and by the end of 2010, the city had built more than 50.

Data from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety back up the case for a wider adoption of roundabouts. A 2001 study reported that converting intersections from traffic signals or stop signs to roundabouts reduced injury crashes by 80 percent and all crashes by 40 percent. A similar study found a 75 percent decrease in injury crashes and a 37 percent decrease in total crashes at 35 intersections that were converted from traffic signals to roundabouts.

A study of 17 higher-speed rural intersections (40 mph and higher speed limits) found that the average injury crash rate per million entering vehicles was reduced by 84 percent and fatal crashes were eliminated when the intersections were converted to roundabouts. Studies of intersections in Europe and Australia that were converted to roundabouts have reported 41-61 percent reductions in injury crashes and 45-75 percent reductions in severe injury crashes.

Moraga cited a study that suggests that only about a third of the population supports the building of more roundabouts. But, after a roundabout has been built, about two-thirds to 70 percent of drivers in the community say they favor building more.

Moraga also cited one study that found roundabouts helped reduce vehicles' carbon monoxide emissions by 29 percent, and nitrous oxide emissions fell by 21 percent, the result of increased traffic flow and fewer vehicular stops and starts.
What are your thoughts on roundabouts?
I want more of them where I live. 2287 (59.7%)
I am scared of them. 1194 (31.2%)
I have never used one before. 347 (9.1%)

Russ Rader at the IIHS said: "Roundabouts are becoming more common. Many communities are beginning to recognize that roundabouts are the ideal solution to fix several problems – they not only improve safety, but they also reduce congestion and fuel consumption. Residents are sometimes skeptical at first, but once roundabouts are put into place and people see them in action, the former skeptics become believers.

"The big safety benefit is that roundabouts essentially eliminate the worst kinds of crashes such as T-bones and head-on impacts."

Because traffic moves in a single direction, roundabouts essentially eliminate the potential for dangerous crashes including right-angle, left-turn, and head-on collisions. They also reduce the likelihood of rear-end crashes because drivers don't speed up to make a yellow or green light or abruptly stop at a red light. The crashes that do occur at roundabouts generally are not severe, the IIHS said, because vehicles move more slowly than they do at conventional intersections.

Roundabouts also can benefit older drivers, as many accidents involving older drivers are the result of a driver failing to yield the right of way. An example would be a driver turning left into oncoming traffic at an intersection. This situation does not occur at a roundabout. Older drivers, Moraga said, really like roundabouts. A 2007 study in six communities where roundabouts replaced traditional intersections found that about two-thirds of drivers 65 and older approved of roundabouts.

Although some older traffic circles have traffic lights and stopping zones, modern roundabouts are smaller and therefore have a sharper approach to entry, resulting in drivers negotiating the roundabout at much lower speeds, so lights are not needed.

Obviously, crashes still occur. An IIHS study of crashes at 38 roundabouts in Maryland found that four crash types (run-off-road, rear-end, sideswipe, and entering-circulating) accounted for almost all crashes. A common crash type at both single-lane and double-lane roundabouts involved vehicles colliding with the central island. These crashes, which often involved unsafe speeds or the driver not seeing the roundabout, accounted for almost half of all single-vehicle run-off-road crashes. There were no right-angle or head-on collisions.

Roundabouts may not be a candidate to replace every intersection, for example, where the topography does not allow it or there is unequal traffic flow in the intersecting streets. But where they are suitable, chances are you'll be seeing a few more of them in your future.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      Until people in the US get used to traffic circles, I don't know why the highway authority who installs them doesn't wake up and add an additional sign under the Yield sign - specifically it should say "Yield to traffic approaching from the left"
      • 4 Years Ago
      I live in Carmel, IN and while the roundabouts may reduce traffic congestion to an extent I think it is of utmost importance that the construction be universal. The number of lanes and where they lead to should be identical in each construction. Carmel missed the boat on that and there are a variety of configurations in the city. This defeats the entire purpose and causes problems for the driver. If the room is not available to build a uniform roundabout with the identical turn radius then move on. Trying to squeeze one in just because some "suit" thinks it's "neat" is BS and a waste of taxpayer money.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Traffic circles are great IF you know how to negotiate them. I grew up in a town that had one and I'm comfortable with them. Get somebody in one who DOESN'T know what to do and LOOK OUT!!!!
      • 4 Years Ago
      Most of these were taken out in the 70's becuase they were deemed unsafe.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I learned to drive in New Jersey in the mid 70's, Circles/Roundabouts were all over. Saw many an accident at them. They were replaced in the 80's by light controled intersection. This is not a good idea!
      • 4 Years Ago
      It should be noted that the sign shown in the article is for areas where they drive on the left side of the road. Looks like the writer is trying to confuse people.
      • 4 Years Ago
      The article states, "While France has more than 20,000 roundabouts, the U.S. has built about 2,000 since the first was constructed in Nevada in 1990, but that number is growing rapidly." Here in New Jersey we've had traffic circles for many decades before 1990 and the current trend has been to remove them, though some have been recently renovated.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Long Beach, California has had a 'traffic circle' since at least the 1950's. The author needs to research better.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I loved roundabouts when I was in Germany, but I was driving a 2 1/2 ton army truck in the land of VW's. Always had the right of way!
      • 4 Years Ago
      What this article fails to mention is that most American round-abouts do not allow enough distance between entry points. Now there are just 'side-swiping' accidents because a decision to switch lanes needs to be made so quickly.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Ohmygosh people. Grow up; it's not that hard to figure out how to drive in a roundabout. This is why people everywhere believe all Americans to be stupid...
      • 4 Years Ago
      MDCaver You Marlanders give me a laugh. You have two major circles in your capital city Annapolis. There is a circle around your State House. I understand that there is an ongoing contest to see how many times one can drive around it without stopping. The last I read it was over 7,000 times. There was a time, back when Annapolis was the capital of the United States when they did the same on cobble streets with horse and buggy. Having fun in MD?
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