Full disclosure: I love roundabouts. I find them safer and smarter than typical intersections. Why, just approaching one from a distance, I get the sort of tingly anticipation that can only come from efficient civil engineering.
But does the rest of the U.S. feel the same? Not quite. While modern roundabouts (not to be confused with older traffic circles) are slowly gaining popularity, we only have about 3,500 from coast to coast. France, which fits inside Texas alone, leads the world with over 30,000.
For many people, this disparity probably isn’t too alarming. But should it be?
5 awesome benefits of roundabouts
There’s no point beating around the bush when it comes to our roundabout scarcity: studies show that by favoring archaic intersections, we’re missing out on some seriously improved roads.
Here are 5 good reasons we should start thinking outside the box … and inside the circle.
1. Fewer accidents
According to the Federal Highway Administration, converting controlled intersections to roundabouts can lower severe/fatal accident risk by roughly 80 percent and decrease overall accident risk by roughly 45 percent!
There are a few ways roundabouts make such a difference:
- Drivers must decelerate before entering, which neutralizes the urge to beat out yellow lights by speeding.
- With roundabouts, you can also say goodbye to the dangerous chore that is turning left across fast-approaching traffic. (Imagine never having to play the “How many cars can squeeze through this red arrow?” game again. Your blood pressure probably dropped just thinking about it.)
- With cars going only one direction, there are simply fewer opportunities for collisions.
2. Less severe accidents
Another downfall of traditional intersections is the type of accidents they enable, such as high-speed, head-on collisions and T-bone crashes. Within roundabouts, however, spots where cars are likely to collide are minimal and tend to be parallel in alignment, meaning the sorts of severe accidents mentioned above are all but eliminated. Plus, roundabouts usually slope against the direction of traffic, helping ensure that any accidents that do occur happen at low speeds.
3. Faster travel
Because you must slow down before entering roundabouts, there’s a misconception that they slow down traffic altogether. Actually, while the average speed through the intersection is slower with roundabouts (again, part of the safety thing), statistics show they make overall travel times significantly faster. See, where most intersections struggle with bottlenecking, congestion, meaningless waits, and other general misery, roundabouts are designed to keep traffic flowing like a steady river and cut out the long delays we hate.
4. More cost-efficient
The cost to maintain roundabouts is a fraction of that for traffic signals. According to a study from the Washington State Department of Transportation (DOT), using roundabouts could save up to $10,000 worth of electricity and upkeep per year, per intersection. (Is that a taxpayer openly weeping with joy, I hear?)
Savings could also extend to the gas pump. One study from the Minnesota DOT showed that decreased idling in roundabouts can cut down fuel consumption by 30 percent or more.
Cutting out idling and stop-start traffic doesn’t just green up your wallet, but the entire planet. Roundabouts have been shown to produce significantly fewer emissions than traditional intersections and help improve air quality.
And, as a cherry on top of this driving sundae, communities can also use the centers of roundabouts for planting gardens to both beautify and invigorate the environment.
How to use a roundabout (and why so many cities aren’t)
With all the benefits of roundabouts, you might be wondering, “So why aren’t I using one right now, my giddy laughter echoing on a smogless, traffic-free breeze?”
Great question! The main reason roundabouts aren’t more prevalent is that, simply put, U.S. drivers are woefully unfamiliar with them. Without the right knowledge, a busy roundabout seems a tad overwhelming, and that kind of impression doesn’t exactly urge you to petition your government to build more.
The good news is, learning how to use a roundabout’s easier than you might think.
- As you get close, slow down and look to your left for oncoming cars, also keeping an eye out for pedestrians.
- Yield the right of way to any cars already using the circle.
- If the road’s clear, you do not need to stop before entering.
- Drive counterclockwise around the center island.
- Continue traveling around the island until arriving at your exit street. Use signal to indicate your turn, just as you normally would.
- For multilane roundabouts, choose your lane before entering (there should be signs to help you out). Typically, the right lane’s best if you plan on turning right or going straight. The left lane’s for going straight or turning left. Once you’re in the roundabout, stay in your lane and signal your exit, just as you would in a single-lane circle.